Surrounded by the smell of BBQ food and friendly Texan drawls, one word keeps popping up across every conversation and presentation at this year’s SXSW. China.
China’s growth is well documented, but this is a wake up call for anyone responsible for longer-term strategy, or any global development. In the UK, we pore over every move made by Google, Facebook and Amazon. But I can count on one hand the number of times someone has mentioned Tencent, Alibaba or Al-Baidu. If you want to see the future, you have to start systematically including an understanding of technology coming from China.
We’re no longer just seeing western business models and technologies copied and scaled. Instead, China is now leading the development of new intellectual property. In the past two years they have dramatically increased the number of new patents filed, to pull to a close second behind the only US.
Amy Webb, the quantitative futurist, didn’t mince her words when she predicted that China will be the world leader in the coming AI age, referencing China’s government detailed three year plan of investment and education. And it’s not just about money. Availability of reliable data sets often the limiting factor in developing real-world AI applications. But in the shape of a 730m online population and limited privacy regulations Chinese companies have a huge advantage in the shape of a massive, rich data set.
It’s been a similar story elsewhere, with a panel on quantum computing featuring D:Wave, IBM and 1QBit enviously highlighted China’s recent commitment to spending $11 billion in quantum computing. Whilst a $560 million investment in green energy and global leadership in distance learning means there’s a good chance that in a decade we will be using Chinese generated energy to take online courses run by YuanFudao (“Ape Tutor”), education inspired by the Khan Academy that feature different types of courses.
Oh, and whilst you’re still impressed by self-driving taxis, EHang has a flying autonomous taxi.
Doug Baker is director of strategic services at AnalogFolk in London.