The Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics’ closing ceremony on Sunday was capped by a spectacular eight-minute presentation from 2022 host Beijing that featured state-of-the-art robotics and AI technology.
Beijing celebrated the transfer of the Olympic flame with a performance by 22 skaters led by a couple of panda “captains,” supported by an array of 24 AI-controlled robot-screens patterned after the Great Wall. Skaters glided across projections of traditional Chinese motifs such as knotting, dragons and phoenixes on the ice surface, while images of China’s latest tech achievements such as high-speed trains, aircraft and spacecraft were displayed overhead on the screens.
Director Yimou Zhang is renowned for his extravagant Beijing 2008 Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the summer torch handover ceremony in Athens in 2004. Nearly ten years later, Zhang has replaced the hundreds of actors with robot substitutes, and applied AI-powered visual media to the ceremony for the first time in Olympic history.
Zhang, who contemplated the theme for an entire year and spent two months preparing and choreographing the show, says two characteristics define this year’s presentation: “One is the joint performance of AI and actors, and second is using the internet to interact with a Chinese audience.”
China is determined to put AI on its national name card, and Zhang says that by linking China with AI in the ceremony “we are sending an invitation to the world, at the same time demonstrating China’s new image in the new era.”
Last month, sharp-eyed viewers identified a couple of interesting books on President Jinping Xi’s bookshelf during his 2018 New Year’s address: Pedro Domingos’ The Master Algorithm and Brett King’s Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane.
In an official report released during the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Xi pledged that the Chinese government will “promote further integration of the internet, big data, and artificial intelligence with the real economy, and foster new growth areas and drivers of growth in medium-high end consumption, innovation-driven development, the green and low-carbon economy, the sharing economy, modern supply chains, and human capital services.”
The Chinese government also presented its blueprint for further AI integration with the economy, following up with an intensive review on “Standardization of AI Helps Industry Development” and a “Three-Year Action Plan for Promoting the Development of New Generation of AI Industry”.
The Olympic Games with their global audience provided the perfect venue to showcase this new national endeavour, and China did it beautifully.
Journalist: Meghan Han| Editor: Michael Sarazen