ChinAI #42: Cloudy AI

Welcome to the ChinAI Newsletter!

These are Jeff Ding's weekly translations of writings on AI policy and strategy from Chinese thinkers. I'll also include general links to all things at the intersection of China and AI. Please share the subscription link if you think this stuff is cool. Here's an archive of all past issues. *Subscribers are welcome to share excerpts from these translations as long as my original translation is cited.

I'm a grad student at the University of Oxford where I'm based at the Governance of AI Program, Future of Humanity Institute.

A BAT Confrontation on the Cloud

Hope everyone’s 2019 has gotten off to a Cumulus cloud-like start. This week’s translations float a bit in China’s cloud computing scene. Cloud infrastructure could make AI capabilities more accessible (e.g. France's AI strategy mentioned creating European-wide private cloud for AI research); at the same time, machine learning capabilities can help optimize and manage cloud infrastructure.

The first translation, a nice overview of the cloud computing skyscape in China and the world, comes from Caijing - a respected business and financial news platform (quite impressive breadth and depth of interviews in this article). Some key takeaways:

  • All three BATs have elevated their cloud division as strategic business lines but Alibaba was way ahead to the trend (Alibaba Cloud formed in 2009, Tecent Cloud in 2013, Baidu Cloud in 2015)

  • Overall market size of China's public cloud services in the first half of 2018 exceeded US$3 billion, Alibaba Cloud's market share reached 43%, followed by Tencent Cloud (11%) and China Telecom (8%). There’s a similar breakdown for the overall Chinese domestic cloud computing market (Alibaba has more than half of the market).

  • Globally, the prediction is that Alibaba will join Amazon, Microsoft, and Google in the oligopolistic public cloud market (think cloud computing solutions for government organizations). But there is still a great deal of uncertainty about who will succeed in private cloud and hybrid cloud markets, especially in China as only 30.8% of Chinese companies used cloud services in 2018, while 80% of U.S. companies were “on the cloud.”

  • One trend to watch: in the past two years, China has made significant efforts in independent, controllable (innovation), and it has encouraged domestic cloud computing to be independent and controllable. Yan Dong, dean of the BAT·Innovation Institute, told that, particularly from a security perspective, getting rid of “foreignization” is an inevitable trend.

READ FULL TRANSLATION: A Confrontation on the Cloud: the future configuration of the BAT may be reshaped

Review of Major Cloud Security Incidents in 2018

What better way to start 2019 than to review all the serious vulnerabilities of information infrastructure exposed by major security incidents in the past year? That’s the subject of this second translation from IDC’s Chinese media platform (IDC is a global consultancy focused on tech that has had a branch in China since 1982). It covers the five major cyberattacks, five major data breaches, and five downtime events of 2018, many of which involved Chinese actors as both perpetrators and victims.

Many of these I had never heard of:

  • Tencent was the target of three of the major cyberattacks, two of which went after Tencent Cloud and the other was a“blackmail virus” that infected WeChat Pay.

  • In June, Someone got ahold of 1 billion pieces of YTO Express — very large Chinese delivery company, in top three along with SF and China Post probably — delivery data, which included name of sender, phone number, address info, and was selling it for one bitcoin on the dark web

  • Also in June, Alibaba Cloud had a large-scale breakdown due to a bug triggered by routine operation and maintenance update, which affected “half of the country’s Internet” (recall the prevalence of Alibaba Cloud infrastructure in the first translation)

Waving Goodbye to a Frustrating 2018, Cloud Computing Will Regain Confidence in 2019

This Week's ChinAI Links

Chinese phrase of the Week:  新瓶装旧酒 (xin1ping2 zhuang1 jiu4jiu3) - old wine in a new bottle, figurative meaning is it’s the same stuff with just a new external label; apparently Baidu’s Robin Li used this phrase to describe cloud computing at a summit back in 2010.

My home base, the Center for the Governance of AI (GovAI), did some awesome work this past year, as captured in our annual report — compiled by our research manager, Markus Anderljung.

The annual AI index 2018 report is a must-read, grounding the conversation about AI in metrics - and the convenors go further to challenge the assumptions and invite expert feedback on those metrics. One China-related tidbit: “Combined AI + ML course enrollment at Tsinghua University was 16x greater in 2017 than it was in 2010.”

MIT Tech Review’s Jan/Feb issue looks at China’s tech scene. You’ll find a short piece of mine in there on self-driving car startups with bases in both China and America, but the one I was blown away by was Yangyang Chen’s story on the University of Science and Technology of China, which goes back through her own family’s history and the relationship between science and state.

Tsinghua University’s December 2018 white paper on AI chip technology - English version linked at the bottom.

Thank you for reading and engaging.

Shout out to everyone who is commenting on the translations - idea is to build up a community of people interested in this stuff. You can contact me at or on Twitter at @jjding99