Chinese internet tech companies win applause at South by Southwest Conference and Festivals

China Plus Published: 2019-03-12 09:18:00
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The 2019 South by Southwest Conference and Festivals, an annual event of tech discussion, music, film and interactive media is now being held in Austin Texas of the United States from March 8th to 17th.

At this year’s event, technologies and concepts on artificial intelligence, smart city and so on showcased by Chinese internet tech firms are winning applause from participants. For more we go to our US correspondent Liu Kun who’s been attending the event.

Its name inspired by Alfred Hitchcock classic “North by Northwest”, the South by Southwest Conference and Festivals were first started in 1987. Celebrating tech, music, film and interactive media, the event draw participants from all around the world.

Alipay Design Director Shanying Leung gives a speech at the 2019 South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas on March 8th, 2019. [Photo: ChinaPlus]

Alipay Design Director Shanying Leung gives a speech at the 2019 South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas on March 8th, 2019. [Photo: ChinaPlus]

2019 is the third year in which a special section called “China Gathering” is held. Chinese internet tech companies such as Alibaba and Tencent are sharing the companies’ recent development and also gaining inspirations from tech professionals around the world.

On the first day of the event, Alibaba discussed topics such as how AI helped its mobile payment products readily available to a larger consumer base in China, how AI is contributing to smart city logistics networks, among others.

Tech and design professionals around the world queued up outside the Alibaba venue long before the speeches started. After hearing the first speech from Alibaba, Torgeir Micaelsen, a tech product designer from Norway said:

“Very interested and curious on how AI in particular can improve people’s lives. And by far the Alipay and the ecosystem on Alipay in China is one of the hottest places on earth going on as we in the west think. So that’s why (I am here for the speech). I like how he integrates tech and design to do nice things for others, shoulder social responsibility, how to leave no one behind, to use technology for common good.”

Paul Fu, senior director of Natural Human Computer Interactive Lab at Alibaba said the company is leading the world in terms of user scenario design, inclusive design and so on.

“We are leading in user scenario design. Products we develop could be used in large scale. The application of AI in all kinds of products, something I’ve just mentioned, is an example. Another thing we are leading is a term many of us have talked about today: inclusive design. We hope products we develop could be used by all kinds of customers and that is inclusive design.”

Addressing what’s driving the company forward, Alibaba team attending the event said the massive domestic Chinese market made innovation more urgent, while the diversity of Chinese consumers inspired designers to move toward the direction of inclusive design. Shanying Leung is design director of Alipay.

“The challenge for designers in China is this: how can we possibly appeal to so many customers. At Alibaba we only have less than 2000 designers and what we are facing is customers in billions and we hope to provide tailored and individual user experiences to these customers. So this question is actually forcing us to think in the AI perspective, and to realize mass production design using industrial methods, so as to appeal to the individual needs of our customers. These challenges and needs are not as urgent in many other parts of the world.”

The concept of interactive tech and innovation was first introduced at South by Southwest around the year 2000. Since then, the event has bred what we know today as major international tech platforms such as Twitter and Foursquare. The event first started the “China Gathering” section in 2017. For the past three years, more and more Chinese internet tech firms have been sharing the Chinese innovation experiences at the event.

Hugh Forrest, chief programming officer of the event said with innovations happening so fast in China, he felt compelled to invite Chinese tech companies.

“So much innovation is happening in China. And if South by Southwest celebrates innovation, then it makes sense to have more of these Chinese entrepreneurs, innovators and creators at the event. Some of the things Alibaba talked about today, and certainly what Alibaba and what other Chinese companies are doing in terms of cashless and mobile payment systems is light years ahead of what we are doing in the US.”

Alibaba team at this year’s event said the company will continue its participation next year.

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