Few people have had the opportunity to watch the rise of video games as an economic and cultural force as closely as Jordan Mechner, who began making video games while in high school in the 1970s. He had his first hit, Karateka, in 1984 while he was still in college, and later went on to create the Prince of Persia franchise, which to date has sold over 20 million copies. In a wide-ranging interview over Skype from his office in Montpellier, France, Mechner, who is also a successful screenwriter and graphic novelist, talked about the evolution of game design and where games might head next.
Few people outside China will have heard of Bytedance, the Beijing-based software startup that creates fiendishly addictive content apps using world-leading artificial intelligence technology. However, more than 200 million people in China—or over one in four of the country’s mobile users—use Bytedance’s products every day, and now the company has ambitions to hook the rest of the world on its apps too. Huge traffic brings customized contents to Bytedance users, which is the magic code for its success. But copyright lawsuits and competition from the BAT companies are just two of the challenges Bytedance faces.
In the early seventies, mechanical pinball games still dominated the arcades, as they had since the Great Depression. Then in 1972, Allan Alcorn, a 24-year-old designer in Sunnyvale, CA, developed a two-dimensional electronic table tennis game and installed it in a local bar. Pong was an unexpected hit at Andy Capp’s Tavern, and soon became so popular that it spawned an entirely new entertainment medium, the videogame. As Devin Griffith put it in his 2013 history of the videogame, Virtual Ascendance, “[t]hree vertical lines and a bouncing square of light. That’s all it took to change the world.” Flash forward 45 years and annual videogame revenue now exceeds $100 billion.
China’s financial sector used to be famous for its poor service and imperviousness to innovation. Even today, when customers go to make a transaction at one of the country’s big state-run banks, they often take a bag of snacks with them—they know they’re in for a long wait. But things are changing fast in the Middle Kingdom. A new generation of digital finance firms is taking the country—and the global markets—by storm in everything from digital payments and micro-lending to insurance and wealth management. How will China’s lumbering state-run banks react? Will tightening regulation nip this revolution in the bud?
In the eyes of insiders, if you are not talking about “AI and Finance,” then you risk being left behind–just as stubborn holdouts in another era were stranded when they failed to accept the Internet. Traditionally, finance has had two core functions: to lower transaction costs and to improve asset pricing. The use of the Internet has undermined the first by enabling more direct transactions, and AI is now disrupting the second by improving the speed and accuracy of asset pricing. Threatened by this are services like asset allocation, investment advisory and insurance pricing, which affects not only banks, but also investment and insurance firms.
Imagine a city where commuters are chauffeured to work by self-driving cars and artificial intelligence systems control every power plant, traffic light and light bulb, making road accidents, power cuts and even traffic jams a thing of the past. Thanks to 5G, the latest protocol for mobile communications, this vision may be realized soon. The world’s leading telecoms companies are already testing the next generation of wireless internet and the first 5G services could be rolled out in 2019. China and the US are locked in a furious battle for control of this and the winner will gain a big economic advantage for years to come.
Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa have been catching on very quickly. Google reports that it sells a voice-controlled speaker every second. While this could just be a fad, some analysts argue that the voice-activated speakers may mark the biggest shift in consumer technology since the smartphone. “Humans don’t really communicate that effectively using text,” says Richard Watson, a futurist in London. Vocal computing should speed up a lot of queries, given that most people can speak much faster than they can type. What has voice-control changed? What are the new opportunities vocal computing will offer?
Chinese tech giant Tencent surpassed Facebook in market value this November, and is the first Asian company worth more than $500 million. Unlike Facebook, which earns 97% of its revenue from advertising, online advertising only represents 16.9% of Tencent’s revenue, according to the company’s Q3 2017 report–lagging behind domestic competitors like Alibaba in terms of ads gain. Determined now to gain a larger slice of the digital advertising market, Tencent focuses on improving targeting and algorithms to intensify ads on its ubiquitous platform WeChat while not undermining the user experience, as well as leveraging opportunities in the company’s other products and services, including mobile games.
BGI, China’s biggest genetics company, offers genetic testing services around the world and did an IPO on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in 2017. In 2016, the company recorded revenues of RMB 1.7 billion ($261 million), with a net profit of RMB 350 million ($54 million)–an increase of 28% over the previous year. However, in a country prone to market hype, there are those who view BGI’s dramatic stock performance with a dash of skepticism: The market valuation of BGI is high, mainly because there is room to imagine future developments in the genomics industry. BGI’s future success will hinge on its ability to lead the technology change, and that is no small challenge.
What does it mean to have a mind? What is the nature of intelligence? Such questions have motivated Brian Christian, a computer scientist who holds a philosophy degree. He has been studying the gaps and overlaps between humans and machines, and investigated dehumanized communication as a result of increasing machine interactions in his bestseller The Most Human Human. In his second book, Algorithms to Live By, co-authored with cognitive scientist Tom Griffiths, he says that computer science actually gives us a way of thinking in new terms about what it means to be rational.