Back in 2014, Stephen Hawking warned that people should be careful about artificial intelligence (AI)—the full development of it could spell the end of the human race, he said. Brad Nelson, professor of robotics and intelligent systems at ETH Zürich, is optimistic about the technology’s development. To him, machines and robotics are augmenting instead of replacing the human workforce. In this interview with CKGSB Knowledge, Nelson talks about the state of AI so far, China’s advantages in this industry and, as an engineer, his insights into the relation between humans and machines.
China’s property market was virtually non-existent 25 years ago, but it is now one of the most critical pillars in this country and the source of incredible wealth for many of China’s citizens. Last year property prices in China’s tier one cities made another gravity-defying leap last year. By September, new home prices had jumped 27.8% in Beijing, 32.7% in Shanghai and a meteoric 34.1% in Shenzhen year-on-year. The health of this pillar remains a top concern of the government and citizens alike. But is there a looming crisis? In the near term, the answer seems to be no.
China’s business world is littered with rags-to-riches entrepreneurs—Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group, was an English teacher before starting Alibaba. Not all such magnates are equal, however, and joining Ma in the upper echelons of China’s rich list was Wang Wei, chairman of delivery and logistics company SF Express, who initially started out by lugging packages between Hong Kong and mainland China, operating in a legal gray zone as he did so. But now SF Express has grown to become the most successful logistics company in China. Listed in Shenzhen Stock Exchange in early 2017, the company has many competitive advantages over its counterparts.
Silicon Valley may hog the artificial intelligence (AI) limelight, but Chinese companies are catching up by implementing AI technologies in real life. According to a McKinsey Global Institute research report, China is one of the leading global hubs of AI development and its advantages include the vast population and a diverse industry mix that has the potential to generate huge volumes of the data needed to feed AI systems. That population not only provides an enormous market for AI-related products, but also, with the large number of internet users, about 731 million, China generates more data than most other countries—a key to AI innovation.
The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is “a fusion of technologies” that blurs the lines “between the physical, digital, and biological spheres,” according to Klaus Schwab, the founder of the Davos Forum. This fusion of so many fields will ultimately see 4IR change the world far more fundamentally than the first three industrial revolutions. Any analysis of the many technological breakthroughs that now define this new 4IR business world is incomplete at best if it misses the China factor. At the dawn of the 4IR era, China is much better positioned than in the past to seize the opportunities offered by an industrial transformation.
A look at the China data you should care about–from China’s investment in an electric car factory in Germany to the 25,000 tons of avocado imports from Latin America. Plus, a look at China’s first homemade passenger jet, the C919, which took its maiden flight in May and seeks to compete with Boeing and Airbus; and technology giant Tencent’s USD 316 billion market cap, which makes it the ninth-largest listed company globally. More international trades are set to grow in the future: One Belt and Road Forum China signed more than 270 agreements with 68 countries and international organizations as China pushes its Silk Road revival.
Although official data for first-quarter GDP and industrial growth exceeded expectations, the industrial economy has not yet bottomed out, according to the latest CKGSB survey. The survey, led by CKGSB Professor Gan Jie, shows that overcapacity remains at a historical high, both in terms of its prevalence and severity in Q1 2017. As in 2016 Q4, rising costs have been the driving force behind rising prices. Among firms with product costs inflation above 5%, cost rises were the most prominent. Meanwhile, the advantage of state-owned firms over private firms has increased in recent quarters.
HNA Group is the most acquisitive Chinese conglomerate in China. Through acquisitions, the group quadrupled its size and made its debut on the Fortune 500 list as the world’s 464th biggest firm in terms of revenue. And it aims higher: becoming one of the top 10 by 2025 with holdings of $5–6 trillion in assets—more than double the assets held today by JPMorgan, the biggest bank in the United States. What is its business model like? How did the Group, which started as a small regional airline company in China’s southernmost island, with only two jets, make it? What are the risks behind the buying spree?
While e-commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba continue to rise, many physical-store retailers are dying off. MINISO is a rare exception, however. Founded in 2013 by Chinese entrepreneur Ye Guofu and Japanese designer Miyake Junya, MINISO has exploded into an emerging business empire with 1,800 stores in 40 countries, delivering an eclectic collection of affordable, curated goods, challenging the physical retail naysayers. What is the key to MINISO’s success? Through careful consideration of the customer and a unique aesthetic, it manages to do what online stores cannot: Deliver an experience.
Under the banner industrial policy “Made in China 2025”, China seeks to replace the advanced foreign manufactured goods that it has long relied upon with domestically-produced goods. But the effort is spooking the foreign business community, and the plan may not address China’s most genuine needs. Precise details of the implementation of the grand policy are only now beginning to emerge. For Chinese companies, the real long-term impact of the plan is at best unclear. But for foreign companies, although there will be business opportunities in the short-term, the plan as a whole presents big challenges to their future in China.