ChinAI Newsletter #15: Follow the Money - mapping investments of Chinese tech giants into AI startups

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.

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

BATJ Companies and their AI Empires

A warm welcome to new subscribers and sincere thanks to everyone who commented on last week's Zhao Tingyang piece on the near-term and long-term risks of AI (you can find that translation on the newsletter's archive link above). Grateful for all the corrections and suggestions happening on an important document and hope going forward we can build a community of people interested in improving translations, suggesting translations, and doing their own translations in this space.
 
This week’s translations pivots to a completely different topic: investments in AI startups by Chinese tech giants – including Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and JD.com. Both articles take a comprehensive look at investments and acquisitions by these companies: the first translation focuses on the AI space and the second one gives a picture of the broader landscape.
 
From the first translation:
“Tech giants are constantly fighting at close quarters on the battlefield of artificial intelligence. On the one hand, they are actively building AI platforms, establishing institutes of AI, and recruiting talents from all over the world; on the other hand, they are expanding the map of their own artificial intelligence empires by investments and acquisitions, fighting for the throne of the Central Plains, puffed with ambitions.”
 
The quick summary:
- Baidu invests in the broadest range of AI companies
- all four BATJ companies invest in the auto industry
- Tencent has invested in the most AI companies in the U.S.
- Alibaba has the largest stable of unicorn AI companies
- Though JD’s number of investments are small, its strength and ambition should not be overlooked - as evidenced by Google’s recent investment in JD

An article to understand the BATJ’s AI Investment Map

Map of the overall investment landscape of BAT Companies

It's also important context to see where AI fits in to the larger investment landscape for these BAT companies, which all have their own investment arms. For instance, Tencent was the second most prolific corporate investor worldwide (Alphabet was first) last year. This translation provides nice visualizations of the BAT investments and acquisitions in the year 2017 and highlights where AI fits into each of their specializations.

Key takeaways:
- Tencent has an absolute advantage in terms of the number of investments (112); Alibaba is at 68 investments and Baidu lags behind at 36.
- In terms of investing together in same company, Baidu and Tencent have the most joint investments (Yiche.com, WM Motors, NIO, Lianjia, Huochebang); Tencent and Alibaba do not go in on the same company
- Areas of automobile transportation, VR/AR and artificial intelligence are the focus areas for BAT, and in the area of artificial intelligence, the threat faced by Baidu is very large.

I learned about a lot of Chinese companies I had never heard about, so if you want to get into the weeds of which company is making elevator advertising great again, give both Google docs a browse.

2017 BAT Overall Investments and M&A Map

This Week's ChinAI Links

Helen Toner, a research associate at FHI, recently published a Chinese-language intro to AI safety research directions for jiqizhixin, a platform from which I’ve drawn some of the translations in past issues of the newsletter. I helped out with the Chinese translation, and here’s the original English version.
 
Connie Chan is doing some great work at Andreesen Horowitz on tech innovation in China. – check out her contributions to the a16z podcast.
 
In this investigative report of how the Pentagon’s top official for East Asia led a think tank funded by defense contractors and foreign governments, there's a section about how someone involved with this think tank wrote about the threat of China developing advanced weapons capabilities such as “artificial intelligence-directed robots.” No doubt China's development of AI and its effect on warfare is an important topic and people are doing good scholarship on it, but whether it’s Silicon Valley or DC or us at FHI, everyone is shaped by their funders as well as the ideology of those who surround them. So in keeping with the theme of this newsletter, follow the money and do your due diligence on who is funding the ideas you are reading.
 

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 jeffrey.ding@magd.ox.ac.uk or on Twitter at @jjding99