Chinese technology is a hot topic: we are increasingly aware that networking hardware from the Middle Kingdom may not be secure, but do we have time to worry about that? Europe is divided and facing Brexit, and despite the US’ protectionist tone, North American manufacturers are closing down plants and relocating elsewhere.

Against this lack of focus, China has something the West does not: a coordinated, coherent, all hands on deck, national, regional and corporate digital strategy.

I saw this on display at the Urban Planning exhibition hall on Shanghai’s People’s Square recently. The main attraction is a gigantic scale model of the city, brings home what makes the Chinese market so unique: here you have an incredibly compliant people, eager to continue its rapid ascension out of poverty, more than happy to hand over personal data to corporations and governments alike.

In Shanghai alone, there are 25.4 million people. Talk about Big Data.

China on top
– Sebastian Moss

A different scale

There is something unique about China’s fearless, unquestioning advance towards a common goal. Scrap the ethics, they say, they only serve to slow us down.

But does this mean that China’s dominance in AI and Big Data will reach beyond borders and into your data centers?

Elsewhere, DCD has explored the question of what impact AI will have on the data center. Machine learning technologies can increase efficiency, by predicting a future based on past data.

We collect raw sensor data from the data center’s many management systems, process it, label it and feed it into a predictive engine. Operators get insights, make predictions and automate decisions which would previously have needed human sign-off, to alter functions like thermal management. Rather than attempting to analyze the data themselves, operators can just set priorities.

Given the benefits of AI, and a deployment model which starts with major companies deploying the technology internally, and then exporting them when they are tried and tested, my guess is that Chinese companies will increasingly pioneer the technologies we deploy across our data centers.

Kai-Fu Lee, PhD in AI, and author of AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, runs a Chinese VC fund, and believes that China has everything it takes to dominate the AI market: intellectual force, external investment, enough internal capital to sustain itself, easy regulations (or lack thereof) and data. Masses and masses of it.

He implies the developers of Silicon Valley are lazy, self-indulgent and too moral (a claim privacy campaigners might dispute). They are no match for China’s new breed of ruthless, relentless entrepreneurs, who honed their skills fighting to the death of their competitors by any means necessary: copycat apps, deception, slanderous smear campaigns, and, ultimately, pushing themselves harder than their competitors to develop the best products on the market.

The US has hitherto been a hotbed for research, but China’s government sponsored research has grown exponentially. The BAT companies (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) have spent billions on R&D/academic partnerships, and the Chinese government has created a business-friendly environment, especially for digital service providers.

As we well know, Western companies hesitate to integrate Chinese technologies into their infrastructure. The trade war between China and the US is a hurdle to this, and meanwhile Europe is choosing whether or not to implement sanctions on one or the other.

US, UK and EU agencies have warned against the use of Chinese companies' technologies (especially those of Huawei) in national infrastructure, because of the fears of government-sponsored espionage.

Given this reluctance to embrace the Chinese model, and Chinese technology, we are unlikely to witness as sudden a prominence of AI technologies in the West, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. When it boils down to a choice between security, economic gain, and the adoption of the best technologies, compromise usually comes first.

Take China’s launch into space exploration: the country’s Chang'e 4 probe recently touched down in the Aitken basin on the far side of the moon. In an impressive tongue-in-cheek statement, China called this “a small step for the rover, but one giant leap for the Chinese nation.”

Until now, international space exploration has belonged to the US, Russia and, to a lesser extent, Europe. Current research projects far outdo anything China has attempted so far, but Chang'e 4 is more than what it seeks to discover. It is a message: the age of Western domination - military, economic and scientific - is over, and we’re here to stay.

This opinion appeared in the February issue of DCD>Magazine. For more information, or if you'd like to subscribe for free, click here or fill in the form below