World Economy

China is a gold mine for innovation, says head of Chinese robot firm

Robots won't be replacing humans just yet
Robots won't be replacing humans just yet

ZHENGZHOU, China — China holds excellent opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation, according to Yu Zhichen, CEO of Turing Robot, a firm looking to make it big in artificial intelligence.

"I've been to the U.S., Japan, Taiwan, and Israel, and the opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship in China are just as good — in some respects it's actually better," Yu told CNBC.

That's because China is already a pretty tech-savvy place and firms continue investing in R&D, according to Yu, who added that the country's giant manufacturing machine means everything can happen in one place.

Like in many countries, technology firms have taken the spotlight in China's entrepreneurial space. And it's an increasingly important part of the growing private sector, as the government guides the economy away from the old growth model of manufacturing and exports, and into the modern era with services and consumption as the main drivers.

Beijing has made it clear that developing advanced technology and capabilities are a priority. In 2015, the government announced its "Made in China 2025" plan, a policy initiative meant to supercharge development in key high-tech areas including advanced medical devices, semiconductors and aerospace equipment.

But some critics have said that plan will unfairly prop up Chinese companies as the government pays out giant subsidies and gives domestic firms preferential treatment. It may also mean foreign firms start to lose access to the Chinese market.

Above Image: Robots from Turing Robot. Courtesy Turing Robot.

No matter how that policy plays out, Chinese innovators seem determined to forge ahead with a new generation of entrepreneurs. That's not a surprise given the success of tech titans like Jack Ma of Alibaba and Robin Li of Baidu.

Turing Robot, for instance, has not only developed a voice recognition software that is capable of understanding Mandarin and overlaying that with artificial intelligence services, but it has also created an operating system that can be used for robots — including a toy robot meant to offer companionship to children.

In the long run, robots could end up with the ability to do tons of things. But we're still at least a few years off from having to worry about machines replacing humans, said Yu, 32.

"At this point, the technology still needs time to develop — maybe in 5 to 10 years we can start worrying about this issue," he said. Plus, "robots should be seen more as a friend, rather than competition."

In the future, though, robots are likely to contribute an increasing amount to the overall economy. "As this industry develops, robots will add more support and take on more duties," Yu said. And when asked about a suggestion that Bill Gates has before raised, a tax on robots, Yu said the idea could very possibly become reality — especially if machines begin adding more value to GDP.