October 27 of 2018 was supposed to be a historic day for China’s growing aerospace industry. Landspace, a Beijing-based startup, was set to become the first private Chinese firm to launch a rocket into outer space. Then, at 6:40 pm, a fault occurred. Soon after, Landspace declared the mission a failure. A few weeks later, SpaceX completed its 20th successful launch of 2018. It is unfair to draw sweeping conclusions based on the performance of just two companies, but it does serve as a reminder of how far China has to go before it rivals the US as the world’s leading technological power.
On a remote farm nestled deep within the mountainous region of Daozhen, in China’s southwestern Guizhou Province, thousands of chickens are being watched closely. Aided by surveillance cameras and distance-tracking ankle tags, every step, meal and sip that the chickens take inside their paddock is uploaded in real time to an online platform. This farm, along with hundreds like it across China, is part a program that gives consumers a direct data trail from egg to plate. Launched by the technology arm of online insurer ZhongAn in 2017, it aims to boost transparency in China’s food supply chain. The technology behind GoGo Chicken is blockchain.
To many people in its home market China, Transsion Holdings is a company name they’ve never heard of. But this smartphone maker, based in Shenzhen, taking over 38% market share, is rising to dominate the smartphone market by with its Tecno Mobile, Itel and Infinix. Its success shows what differences can a small company make by truly catering to consumers’ long ignored needs, as said by local tech expert, “Transsion has succeeded because they addressed the problems of the market directly. They make phones with features that are attractive to Africans.”
For China’s technology sector, the decision of the United States to hit Shenzhen-based telecommunications giant ZTE with a trade ban in April was an abrupt and painful wake-up call. Until then, many in China had grown accustomed to thinking of their country as a global leader in technology. After all, China’s smartphones, high-speed railways and e-commerce platforms were the envy of the world. But in the days following the ban, designed to punish ZTE for violating US sanctions on Iran and North Korea, it became clear that one of China’s most successful companies was totally dependent on American suppliers.
The negative effects that industrial revolutions unleash on human society always stem from an overestimation and abuse of the power of new technologies. It has never been more important to heed this point than today. Big data and artificial intelligence (AI) are bringing forth a new industrial revolution, and the blind worship of these innovations is already on full display in some quarters.
Chinese auto startup Nio just had its $1 billion US initial public offering. While the share price fluctuates, investors ask the same question: will the Shanghai-based upstart supplant Tesla as the world’s top luxury electric car brand? Like Tesla, its cars offer sleek, space-age designs. It also has a flair for marketing stunts: in Nio’s case, setting the fastest lap ever recorded by an electric car at Germany’s Nürburgring. But Nio is offering cutting-edge technology at jaw-dropping prices. Its ES8, priced at RMB 448,000 ($70,000), costs only around half as much as a Tesla Model X does in China.
China’s hospitals are becoming overstretched as population aging and urbanization send demand for health care soaring. But a new wave of world-leading Chinese health technology firms believe they can lift the burden on the country’s frazzled doctors, saving them from the repetitive tasks like reading CT scans. Indeed, the AI health care field has developed incredibly fast in China, with most companies focusing on medical imaging systems that help doctors analyze X-rays, CT scans and tissue analyses for signs of dozens of diseases, from cancers to liver disease.
For a company whose software speaks to more than half a billion people, iFlytek tends to keep its voice low. Founded by a group of researchers in 1999 and headquartered in the relatively sleepy eastern city of Hefei, the company was ranked as the 6th smartest firm in the world in 2017—just one place below Google—by MIT Technology Review. Over the past two decades, iFlytek developed software that can understand several Chinese dialects fluently—a feat Apple’s Siri still struggles with. It can transcribe it into text, and translate it into English instantly. In this interview, Jiang Tao, Senior Vice President of iFlytek, who joined in the firm at the very beginning, explains how the company reached this point and how it keeps hold of its world-class researchers.
Chile’s Atacama Desert is one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Situated 2,300 meters above sea level and encircled by mountains, the region receives almost no rainfall and the blinding sun singes exposed human skin within minutes. But 40 meters below the salt flats lie our planet’s largest and purest reserves of the chemical element lithium. Lithium, the lightest of all metals, has the best electrochemical potential. This makes it perfect for rechargeable batteries, a technology that powers our smartphones and is expected to become even more crucial in the future. Now, a Chinese firm is attempting to gain control of the Atacama reserves.
People love video games. They feel relaxed and entertained in the virtual world. However, there is a trend towards games that are practical and serious—games that are used to teach and train for certain skills. Soldiers, surgeons, securities traders and workers in many other professions train with specialized games. The Brookings Institution estimates that the US military alone spends more than $6 billion a year on video games. “Serious games allow a safe way of rehearsing actions and learning about their consequences as well as transferring previously learned knowledge in as efficient and effective a way as possible,” says computing expert Dr. Andreas Oikonomou.