Shenzhen aims to be China’s artificial intelligence hub with special guideline to boost development and secure privacy

Shenzhen has released the country’s first-ever local regulation dedicated to boosting the development of artificial intelligence (AI), as the city steps up efforts to supercharge its hi-tech sector.

The regulation, which takes effect in November, seeks to promote the AI industry by encouraging government agencies to be the early adopters of related technologies and enhancing financial support to AI research in the city. In particular, the Shenzhen government will set up public data sharing rules and open certain types of data to businesses and institutions working in the industry.

“As a strategic technology that is expected to lead future transformations, AI has been achieving rapid growth and at the same time bringing new challenges in security, privacy and fairness. At present there is no specific legislation for the AI industry at the national level,” the Shenzhen authority said in a statement on Monday.

“It is necessary to integrate the global AI governance system and Shenzhen’s current situation to regulate the AI industry in our city in an orderly manner and explore the Chinese plan for AI governance,” it added.

The move by Shenzhen – home to over 1,300 AI-related firms, according to the Shenzhen Artificial Intelligence Industry Association – is part of China’s ongoing efforts to become an AI superpower. At the same time, many of China’s key businesses in the industry are struggling to turn a profit, while China’s AI ambitions face headwinds from US restrictions on access to advanced chips.

Under the new regulation, AI products and services in Shenzhen deemed to be low risk will be allowed to undergo testing and trials, even when local and national standards are lacking, as long as they meet international standards. The government plans to define what it means to be low-, medium- or high-risk technology.

The regulation also requires the government to establish an AI ethics committee that will draw up safety guidelines and research the technology’s impact on data protections, employment and other social issues.

The final regulation, with over 7,500 characters, is shorter than its draft document unveiled last June, which contained some proposals that have been scrapped.

One of the deleted proposals was a fast-track review system for approving the testing of medical AI products. The final regulation simply encourages local medical institutions to adopt AI products and services such as imaging and data processing, medical data mining and auxiliary decision-making tools.

As the first of its kind in China, the regulation could allow Shenzhen to take a lead in what has become a 150 billion yuan (US$21.5 billion) industry in the country, according to an iiMedia Research report from February, which estimates the industry will surpass 400 billion yuan by 2025.

In 2020 the Chinese Communist Party and the country’s State Council issued a five-year plan for Shenzhen that granted the southern city autonomy to make decisions on a wide range of local policies, from land use to hiring global talent, in a bid to turn it into one of the world’s most advanced innovation hubs.

One of the privileges accorded to Shenzhen was a free hand to explore legislation aimed at emerging industries.

Last month, China’s financial hub of Shanghai drew up a new programme to advance the development of its AI industry, with various measures including providing financial support, fostering entrepreneurs and start-ups, sharpening focus on certain market segments and building up the sector’s supply chain.

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