China: the world’s largest petri dish for IoT and AI applications

China bike sharing

When I first started working in the tech industry, I would always go to the US in order to get a taste of what was in store for the future. These days, I only have to take a much shorter flight across the Taiwan Straits. What a change in less than thirty years! In those days, you couldn’t even get a direct flight from Taiwan to China and had to transit through Hong Kong.

It’s not because, as some alarmist in the west fear, that China now has more advanced technology than the US. It’s simply the mind-boggling speed with which technologies such as IoT and AI are being deployed. With its dense urban spaces, huge tech-hungry population, and extensive communications and transportation networks, the country has become a massive Petri dish for all manner of experimentation that would be difficult – perhaps impossible – to carry out anywhere else in the world.

By their very nature, IoT and AI are collective technologies that require vast volumes of data to progress – not to mention large-scale implementation for testing, validation, and continued learning and innovation. Highly-populated cities, in other words, rather than the fabled Silicon Valley garage. China, of course, has them in spades. India provides the only comparable alternative.

As collective technologies, IoT and AI also require a conducive government, legal, social, and economic environment to enable and promote their rapid implementation. With its holistic government policy framework supported by extensive investments, aggressive action plans, and close cooperation with the domestic high-tech industry, China is leading the world in creating the right environment for the proliferation of IoT and AI technologies to happen.

China is already number one in the world for smart phone usage and mobile payments and its innovative entrepreneurs have led the way in rolling new collective transportation usage models such as bike-sharing and taking them to the world stage. Facial recognition for both security and commercial purposes is another application in which China is forging ahead.

While there are obvious differences between China and other countries, there is a huge amount that everyone can learn from how it is fostering the growth of IoT and AI. Even though I visit China at least once a month, each time I go there I never fail to feel just as starry-eyed about the possibilities for the future as I did when I made my first trip to Silicon Valley.

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