Province plans AI-enabled computing center

By Ma Si and Yang Jun | China Daily | Updated: 2017-03-10 07:25

Guizhou province in southwestern China plans to build an artificial intelligence-enabled computing center, as the world's largest radio telescope, located in the province, is expected to start a test run in the second half of this year, a senior local official said.

The move is part of China's broad plan to promote high-end manufacturing and leverage innovation to boost economic growth, which are highlighted in this year's Government Work Report.

"The computing machine, which is estimated to cost no more than 1 billion yuan ($145 million), will process data from the radio telescope and other enterprises," said Liao Fei, head of the Guizhou Provincial Science and Technology Department.

"We don't exclude the possibility of setting up a joint venture with foreign companies to run the project," he said in an interview with China Daily.

The move comes after the local government persuaded the country's top three telecom carriers to store data in the province.

The Guizhou provincial government set up a 1.85 billion yuan joint venture with the United States chip giant Qualcomm Inc in 2016, in a move to produce server chips, which are of high importance to the big data sector.

Liao said it would take two years before the 1.2 billion yuan, 500-meter-diameter aperture spherical radio telescope, or FAST, finishes testing.

The radio telescope, located in Pingtang county, Guizhou, has a reflector as large as 30 soccer pitches. It was completed in September 2016.

Liao said data from FAST would first be made available to scientists and then to the public.

Guizhou's plan comes shortly after China said it has started to build a new-generation supercomputer that can make a quintillion (1 followed by 18 zeros) calculations per second, roughly 10 times faster than the current world fastest computer.

"But our approach is different. Our computer center will focus on improving deep learning ability rather than processing speed," Liao added.

Roger Sheng, research director at Gartner Inc, said Guizhou is in dire need of a big computer center to mine insights and value from its data assets.

"It remains to be seen whether Guizhou will use its joint venture's chips to power the computer center, because it takes time to tailor-make new chips for that," Sheng said.

"But even it is AI-enabled, a computer center needs to be backed by fast processing speed."

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