At the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, there is no smell of disinfectant and the need to queue; just a control panel bearing your medical history and results from the recent tests, against a backdrop of bigger screens giving diagnosis, treatment suggestions and ready to take your questions.

Some may be overawed by the extent of such minimalism, others may enjoy the privacy, but to the WAIC, this is the consultation room of the future. The WAIC took place in Shanghai 17 – 19 September.

The WAIC is a literal arts meets science event, with some of China’s latest AI developments compressed into the brand new West Bund Oil Tank Art Centre, sat alongside the Huangpu River. Its guest speakers range from academia and representatives of some of the global names like Microsoft and Amazon to CEOs of local tech tycoons such as Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu.

Beyond the WAIC, government backing AI developments in China

China’s conspicuous ambition in making Shanghai the limelight of AI can be seen in its RMB 70-billion ($10.2 billion) of sector output last year.

Mingbo Chen, director of the Shanghai Commission of Economy and Information Technology told China Daily in September, an AI fund of over RMB 100- billion ($14.6 billion) will be set up and related platforms and applications will also be created in the coming year.

However, the main challenge comes from standardization. China’s State Food and Drug Administration changed its name to National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) on 29 August. The AI medical industry believe this will initiate a new set of certifications for medical procedures and equipment, including formal guidelines in the safety procurement and use of robots, advanced machines, and AI.

The barrier to diagnostic AI in Chinese healthcare

According to Sina, presently there are two kinds of license for AI equipment in China. One is assistive, which aids healthcare professionals in their provision of care and the other is diagnostic: like the consultation room of the future, they act as virtual doctor.

It is the latter which most companies are after, to overcome the pressing problem of doctor shortage, especially in rural areas. Apart from this, there is no other regulation on the systematic employment of AI in medical settings.

Besides, there is an absence of open sources in China. Most available data are old, non-uniform and do not necessarily coincide with real-life. This will put diagnostic forms of AI in question, or even render them impotent. While WAIC showed China’s potential to the world, there remains a gap which local authorities need to bridge.


Author Bio

Hazel Tang A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.