China has started tests on a new earthquake monitoring system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to measure seismic activity in the southwest provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan.
The fully automated system, which is designed to process huge amounts of seismic data, is expected to fast-track earthquake prediction to within two seconds based on established source parameters, according to a report on Wednesday by Science and Technology Daily, the official newspaper of the Ministry of Science and Technology.
It is expected to replace current methods, which typically require a professional on standby to work on algorithms and manually calculate certain earthquake parameters such as epicenter, magnitude, time, and depth based on seismic wave signals.
The tests mark a further escalation of efforts to apply AI technology across a range of sectors in China, the world’s second largest economy and location of some of the most deadly earthquakes in history. The 1976 Tangshan earthquake in northern Hebei province, for example, was a magnitude 7.6 tremor that resulted in the deaths of at least 242,000 people.
China’s latest major seismic disaster was the magnitude 8 Sichuan earthquake in 2008, with more than 87,000 fatalities.
Developed by the University of Science and Technology of China and the China Earthquake Administration, the new AI-enabled quake monitoring system is a six-year research project that has been put on a one-year trial in the two provinces, according to the Science and Technology Daily report.
The China Earthquake Administration did not immediately respond to an emailed inquiry for comments.
With AI, the new monitoring system’s processing speed is expected to enable a more timely response for authorities to shut down nuclear power stations, slow down train speeds and initiate search-and-rescue operations, the report said.
It has shown better accuracy, compared with the manual computing methods, in 446 earthquake assessment results, which would help reduce missed reports and any errors in estimates.
The research team behind the system has also started discussions with the disaster monitoring organizations in a number of earthquake-prone countries including Japan, Turkey, and Mexico.
For China, the increased domestic development and adoption of AI is meant to be the silver bullet that unlocks further economic growth and helps solve deep-rooted social problems, such as the uneven distribution of resources in education and health care.
The country aims to become a global leader in the field by 2030, with a core AI industry worth about RMB 1 trillion (USD 144.1 billion) by that time.
This article first appeared in the South China Morning Post.