China’s technological progress is contributing to shaping the future of Life 2.0. But while artificial intelligence is improving both the production process and people’s quality of life, how is it actually changing life in the PRC?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has definitely entered people’ everyday lives. We use AI while grocery shopping, we call for AI for weather forecasts, we rely on smarter intelligence for our waste disposal. It is Life 2.0, we let the most advanced technology complement our daily lives without knowing it, and now we cannot even remember how we used to live before its advent. But most shocking is that we still cannot imagine how far AI could actually go.
And who is making this happen? It is not the Silicon Valley, as someone might think, but the People’s Republic. In the latest years, China has stood out for many important factors such as its unlimited market potential and the extraordinary Single Day’s records. But the Dragon has distinguished itself also for less obvious but more groundbreaking reasons like its technological innovation, which today leads the global market, including that of Western countries.
© Unsplash. In recent years, China witnessed a huge growth of industries dedicated to the development of AI, reaching the number of 4040 AI companies in May 2018, whose 26% is located in Beijing.
Until a few years ago, the Western world considered China to be the ideal destination for relocating low-cost production, certainly it did not think of the PRC as a fertile ground for innovation. But the Asian giant has now risen and, late on twentieth-century technologies, it chose to leap-frog and focus on twenty-first-century technologies directly.
With the Made in China 2025 plan, Beijing is already rewriting the global geography of hi-tech innovation. The goal is not only to achieve China’s independence from foreign technology but also to become a hi-tech superpower by 2025. And in this race for global supremacy, artificial intelligence represents a key cog for the transformation of our world and it already has an increasingly important role in areas such as the economy, defense, and city life.
In 2017, China published its Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, which laid out plans to become the world leader in AI, establishing a domestic AI industry worth almost $150 billion by 2030.
Therefore, the Middle Kingdom is undoubtedly devoted to developing the technology of the future, and the glue of this new “Made in China” narrative is the web. The People’s Republic is the most connected country in the world. Here, 5G is real and currently in use in cities like Shanghai, Beijing or Chongqing, while more than 300 smart city projects are improving the quality of city life leveraging the country’s advancement in AI, Internet of Things (IoT), and new technologies.
Thanks to its unlimited network of people and connected objects, the Celestial Empire boasts the record of being the first mobile-driven cashless society, in which online payments has become the new norm for some time now. Alipay and WeChat Pay dominate the fintech and today, even temples or beggars have their own QR codes to receive offers. The fintech sector is then supported by AI and relies not only on online shops but also on fully automated logistics services, new concept stores, robotic cashiers, and so on.
Facial recognition is probably one of the intelligent technologies that are revolutionizing Chinese people’s lives the most. From face recognition payments to surgical operations through holograms, the reality in China has gone way beyond science fiction movies.
In addition to QR codes, to pay for their purchases, people now can just take a selfie and validate the payment. This is the philosophy of Alibaba’s “Smile and Pay” technology. The Chinese giant announced its new concept store two years ago, but according to the Hangzhou company the first “Smile and Pay” store will finally be operational as early as next year.
However, facial recognition daily use is not limited to the sales industry. An increasing number of Chinese airports are now using facial recognition systems to help speed up their security checks for the convenience of travelers. Information panels equipped with cameras have been installed at Xi’an airport, providing passengers with personalized information on the status of the flight.
Nevertheless, news about the application of this latest technology is a daily occurrence in China so much so that even the Beijing police has proudly posted a video online, showing the city’s new “army” of smart cameras capable of projecting the identified individual’s life and habits, in a split second.
Moreover, even surgery is now leveraging facial recognition. Indeed, the world’s first surgical operation with 3D holograms has taken place in Fuzhou, in Fujian province. But this is just the tip of the iceberg of how AI is revolutionizing China’s medical sector as well.
However, it is in the robotics sector, in the field of logistics in particular, that China has mastered AI. From JD.com to Cainiao, intelligent vehicles now lead the logistics sector, landing on the road thanks to 5G technology.
Cainiao Logistics, Alibaba’s logistics arm, recently opened the largest automated warehouse in China – one of the largest in the world – in the eastern city of Wuxi, in Jiangsu province. This is part of the company’s first Future Park, a logistics complex managed by IoT applications, big data, edge computing, and artificial intelligence to increase efficiency in the shipping process.
Powered by IoT connectivity, Cainiao uses 700 robots to process its orders. The intelligent system autonomously directs the automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to drive, load and unload the goods, planning the best routes to distribute the packages and avoid the collision while reducing the processes’ timing and improving the warehouse’s efficiency. The Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com is investing in logistics too, deploying a large number of self-driving delivery drones.
But China also rules the mobility revolution, launching automated cars while fleets of self-driving vehicles hit the country’s roads. Tianjin, Shenzhen, and Chongqing are just some of the first cities to have intelligent self-driving public vehicles on the road.
From Chinese companies’ investments in AI to the numerous smart cities projects across the country, artificial intelligence has penetrated every aspect of Chinese people’s lives.
Alibaba has inaugurated its “Future Hotel” in Hangzhou, the first fully automated hotel in China with the goal to put intelligent interactive technologies at the service of the tourism industry and of hotel guests. But even the restaurants and farms now hire robot staff, while Xinhua Agency hired the first robotic TV host last November.
However, the use of AI does not stop there. Lately, the Central Government invested in new technologies also in order to simplify some bureaucratic procedures. An example is the use of WeChat in Chinese courts. The Beijing Department of Justice has adopted WeChat as an electronic archive with the goal to replace physical IDs, thus simplifying and accelerating bureaucratic procedures. In this way, the parties involved in a lawsuit are able to file documents and pay legal fees through the app platform.
In the meantime, from anti-infraction road drones to China’s first solar-powered super highway expected to open to traffic by 2022, new hi-tech innovations are going to hit the roads of the People’s Republic in the next few years. Beijing is moving fast and the West struggles to keep up.
Today, more than ever, the PRC needs a brand new narrative able to describe a country that keeps transforming itself, from the bottom to the top, from the production to people’s daily lives. It is a China 2.0, a country that is no longer the “factory of the world” but rather drives international trends and the world’s technological advancement.
The West thought it could change China, but it is the Dragon that is influencing the world. Artificial intelligence, robotics, fintech, and automation are just some of the sectors in which Beijing is taking the lead. However, there are still some gaps to bridge in strategic fields such as aerospace, but they are reducing quickly.
Despite these last few technological gaps, AI is changing the world as we know it. And as long as the future of artificial intelligence is decided in China, it is thus legitimate to say that the Dragon is changing the world as we know it, contributing to shaping the future of Life 2.0.
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