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China: The State Council has issued its first ArtificiaI Intelligence development plan

The State Council of China released an Artificial Intelligence (AI) development plan on July 20, 2017, which aims to build a domestic industry worth almost $150 billion and positioning the country to become the world leader in AI by 2030.

There are three steps in the plan. By 2020, the Chinese government expects its companies and research facilities to be at the same level as those in leading countries such as the United States. After another five years it is aiming for a breakthrough in aspects of AI that will drive economic transformation. Then by 2030 China aims to become the world’s premier artificial intelligence innovation center, establishing the key fundamentals for a great economic power.

However, rapid development of AI solutions is not without its drawbacks. In June, Kai-Fu Lee, the chairman and chief executive of one of China’s leading venture capital firms Sinovation Ventures and the president of its Artificial Intelligence Institute, expressed concerns about the downsides of AI, particularly the potential for mass unemployment. He raised basic income as a feasible solution.

According to Kai-Fu, the AI products that now exist are improving faster than most people realize and promise to radically transform our world, not always for the better. They will reshape what work means and how wealth is created, leading to unprecedented economic inequalities and even altering the global balance of power.

He highlighted the challenges brought about by two specific developments: enormous wealth concentrated in relatively few hands and vast numbers of people out of work.

Part of the solution to the loss of jobs will involve educating or retraining people in tasks where AI performs poorly. These include jobs that involve cross-domain thinking such as the work of a trial lawyer, however, retraining displaced workers to perform these highly skilled tasks will not be feasible in most cases. There is more scope for people to occupy lower-paying jobs involving the nuanced human interaction that AI struggles to perform, such as social workers, bartenders and concierges. But here too there is a problem: how many bartenders does society really need?

The solution to the problem of mass unemployment, Kai-Fu suspects, will involve “service jobs of love.” These are jobs that AI cannot do, that society needs and that give people a sense of purpose. Examples include accompanying an older person to visit a doctor, mentoring at an orphanage and serving as a sponsor at Alcoholics Anonymous – or, potentially soon, Virtual Reality Anonymous for those addicted to their parallel lives in computer-generated simulations. In other words, the voluntary service jobs of today may turn into the real jobs of the future. Other voluntary jobs may be more professional and therefore higher-paying, such as compassionate medical service providers who serve as the human interface for AI programs that diagnose cancer. In all cases, people will be able to choose to work fewer hours than they do now.

In order to pay for these jobs, it will be necessary to take advantage of the enormous wealth concentrated in relatively few hands.

Kai-Fu Lee writes:

“It strikes me as unavoidable that large chunks of the money created by AI will have to be transferred to those whose jobs have been displaced. This seems feasible only through Keynesian policies of increased government spending, presumably raised through taxation on wealthy companies.

As for what form that social welfare would take, I would argue for a conditional universal basic income: welfare offered to those who have a financial need, on the condition they either show an effort to receive training or commit to a certain number of hours of “service of love” voluntarism.

To fund this, tax rates will have to be high. The government will not only have to subsidize most people’s lives and work; it will also have to revenue previously collected from employed individuals.”


More information at:

In Chinese:

Guo Fa, “State Council for a new generation of AI to inform development management“, Chinese State Council, July 8th 2017

In English:

Paul Mozur, “Beijing wants AI to be made in China by 2030”, The New York Times, July 20th 2017

Kai-Fu Lee, “The real threat of artificial intelligence”, The New York Times, June 24th 2017


Article Reviewed by Caroline Pearce

About Furui Cheng

Furui Cheng has written 9 articles.

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.


  • Sam Spruce

    Firstly, the “conditional” bit is unnecessary and a recipe for further problems. Secondly, the idea of taxes having to be high and the government “subsidising” people’s lives is a misconception. Consider paying and taxing robots.

    • Furui Cheng

      Yes. I agree with you. Kai-Fu Lee’s understanding about basic income is not deep enough.

  • Andrew

    If globalisation is going to work and the jobs that are not automated move to China, India and Africa etc then a basic income for the people left behind is needed so that people can afford to buy the products from the countries making the products this will ensure that the monetary cycle continues. The idea of automation should be that people receive the benefits of being freed from work to spend their leisure time traveling the world, building on hobbies helping with volunteer work, studying etc, there are so many opportunities to follow up if one has the creative imagination and money to build a life without work or minimal work at least. For the monetary system to function properly then the people that are not working need money to feed the monetary cycle.

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