In July 2017, Beijing set the target to make China “the world’s primary AI (Artificial Intelligence) innovation centre” by 2030. Whilst a detailed plan didn’t accompany the goal, it sent a message reinforcing how serious China is about AI. Such a signal is almost always accompanied by investment, policy and supporting regulations (or lack thereof) from Central Government. In early 2018, eagle-eyed Chinese spotted AI-related books on Xi Jinping’s bookshelf, highlighting that the mandate is being supported from the very top.
The vital ingredient for AI is the data that fuels the machines that learn from it. Unlike in the West where data is becoming more difficult to access as a result of heightened privacy legislation, China has very liberal rules. Chinese consumers are also among the least concerned about privacy and rate convenience as more important. On top of that, between some of the highest ecommerce, mobile payments, general smartphone and o2o (Online to Offline) usage rates in the world, coupled with the “datatization” of public spaces through facial recognition, the breadth of data-sourcing opportunities are second to none. China has so much data, it needs AI to make sense of it all.
There has been no shortage of news about how AI will touch most things we do including our education, whether or not we’re offered a job, romantic matches, bank loans, how we are entertained, self-driving cars, and even the scarier things such as military drones. In China, ‘keeping the population safe’ has become one of most commonly cited applications. Yet possibly the most underreported driver for why China needs AI is to address the lack of youngsters being born to fill the gap in the workforce, as the ballooning elderly population retires.
While AI has some way to go to being able to match humans for feelings and emotional intelligence, improvements are happening. This is where things are getting interesting.
The global race for AI supremacy has illustrated just how far values differ between China and the West, resulting in different prioritisation in AI algorithms. This was evident during an AI ethics seminar in London earlier this month which highlighted that there is no global ethical standard for this very important technology which will impact us all. Codes of principles written in the west tend to focus on fairness, transparency, individual rights, privacy and accountability. Chinese AI ethicists prioritise values that are open, inclusive and adaptive, adding up to “great compassion and deep harmony” – collective good rather than individual rights.
These values don’t just provide an interesting perspective on the cultural differences between the West and China, but how AI’s execution may differ in China and how it will shape marketing here. Most of China’s tech giants are already using AI to offer adaptive and personalised offerings that make life easier and more convenient for consumers. This is already impacting marketing and will increasingly do so beyond the smartphone, such as future evolutions of New Retail and when personalised Out of Home advertising comes to the fore.
Foreign brands don’t just need to understand how this is impacting their marketplace, channels and competitors, but also how differing principles will shape its development. China Skinny would be happy to assist. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.