What to expect at China’s World Internet Conference

Sara Hsu China Plus Published: 2017-12-03 09:08:47
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By Sara Hsu

The 4th World Internet Conference in Wuzhen is scheduled for December 3-5, and is expected to attract up to 1,500 internet innovators and scholars from around the globe. The event will cover the digital economy, cutting-edge technology, internet and society, network space governance, and communications and cooperation. The conference will provide a forum in which internet leaders from all over the world can interact and will showcase the Innovative technologies of large domestic and foreign internet companies. What can we expect from this event?

A boat is seen on a river in Wuzhen, east China's Zhejiang Province, Dec. 2, 2017. The fourth World Internet Conference (WIC) will be held in the river town of Wuzhen from Dec. 3 to 5. [Photo: Xinhua]

A boat is seen on a river in Wuzhen, east China's Zhejiang Province, Dec. 2, 2017. The fourth World Internet Conference (WIC) will be held in the river town of Wuzhen from Dec. 3 to 5. [Photo: Xinhua]

First of all, the sub-forums will cover topics like artificial intelligence, the sharing economy, and internet-driven poverty alleviation. Artificial intelligence is a field of rapid development, with major technology firms investing heavily in this area. The government also supports the development of artificial intelligence, with the aim of creating a $150 billion industry by 2030. Another important topic is the sharing economy in China, which has spread like wildfire, with bicycle sharing and even umbrella sharing becoming widespread. The subforum is organized by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and State Information Center (SIC) and co-organized by Didi Chuxing Internet-driven poverty alleviation has involved the construction of databases on poor households, designed to include information on government assistance in areas like housing and medical care.

A fintech sub-forum, sponsored by the People’s Bank of China and Xinhua News Agency, will focus on improving the relationship between financial technology and the real economy. China’s fintech industry has been growing rapidly as support in the form of better risk modeling and venture capital become increasingly available.

Second, the conference will feature new developments like Alibaba's unmanned supermarket, smart robots, and quantum communication devices. Alibaba’s unmanned supermarket allows customers to purchase items themselves without interacting with a staff person, and follows a general trend of staffless convenience stores. The store incorporates computer vision, biometric recognition, and sensing technologies to recognize and track customers and their purchases. China is also engineering an increasing number of smart robots. These include home assistants, manufacturing robots, and cloud-intelligence based robots. Another feature will be quantum communication devices. China has launched a quantum communication network in the city of Jinan which is unhackable due to the use of quantum cryptography.

Third, we can expect that new innovations showcased this year will be put into use in the coming months. At last year’s conference, Ant Financial demonstrated its Smile to Pay facial recognition device that is now in use at a KFC in Hangzhou. At this location, customers only need to smile after placing their order in order to pay for their meal. JD featured a drone and driverless vehicle that carry out logistics for e-commerce. This is currently being implemented for use in areas that are more difficult to reach, such as last-mile and rural deliveries. 

Fourth, there will be a focus on inclusivity, as the title of the conference is ‘Developing e-Commerce and Improving Sharing in the Digital Economy - Building a Common Destiny in Cyberspace’. Several international organizations, like the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the World Economic Forum (WEF), will attend. Inclusivity in this context focuses on inclusion of the poor, social responsibility, cultural exchange, and international cooperation. 

The conference will take place in an innovation-oriented city. Wuzhen is home to the Wuzhen Comprehensive Experimental Zone for the Internet Innovation and Development, Wuzhen Big Data High-tech Industrial Park, and Wuzhen Internet Featured Town. The internet pilot zone was launched in 2015, in order to promote China’s Internet Plus policy of integrating internet experience with traditional industries. Wuzhen Big Data High-tech Industrial Park is an industrial park designed to benefit from the transfer of industries from Shanghai and Hangzhou, with a target output of RMB 42 billion following five years of development.

Internet industry leaders from around the world have been invited. Large domestic firms Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent and large foreign firms Microsoft, Cisco, and Facebook have all confirmed their attendance at the upcoming meeting. Keynote speeches will be given by Li Cheng, director of the John L. Thornton China Center; Niall Ferguson, senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University; and Stephen A. Orlins, president of the National Committee on US-China Relations.

The conference will provide a platform for internet participants to discuss current topics and the future path of internet-based industries. Further developments in this area are likely to boost China’s digital economy, which is growing both in technology-intensive and traditional industries alike. This is due, to a large extent, to support from central and local governments, as well as to China’s current environment of innovation.

(Sara Hsu, associate professor, the State University of New York at New Paltz)

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