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Friday, 12 July 2019 10:38

China's AI use soaring, 'social credit' comes into play

China's AI use soaring, 'social credit' comes into play Image by Annalise Batista from Pixabay

The use of artificial intelligence and the implementation of social credit are two key overarching trends identified as drivers in a new report on use of the Internet in China.

China's Internet penetration rate, at 60%, is much lower than that in the US (89%), but in terms of number of users Beijing is far ahead, with 829 million compared to Washington's 293 million.

In mobile payments too, China is far ahead with 583 million users or 42% of the population, compared to 62 million users in the US (19%).

Year-on-year growth of Internet use was 57 million users in China and just a million in the US. In mobile payments, 56 million Chinese were added year-on-year compared to 14 million in the US.

The statistics come from the China Internet Report 2019, a joint effort of Abacus News, the South China Morning Post and 500 Startups run by well-known businesswoman Edith Yeung.

The top Chinese Internet player in 2019 was Tencent Holdings with a market cap of US$418 billion, closely followed by the Alibaba Group at US$416 billion.

The survey found that four over-arching trends identified in the 2018 collection of data were still valid in 2019. For one, the big Chinese Internet companies had a hand in many different industries, the rural population was being enabled to use digital technologies, there was a big embrace of social use of technology and the government took a big role in pushing the adoption of technology.

top trends china

Additionally, there were four top trends in the current survey. China's so-called copycat tech industry was now being copied, Beijing was racing ahead with 5G, AI was being used on a massive scale and social credit was becoming a reality.

The survey found that China had pioneered what it called the "Super App" which offered everything from shopping to ride hailing to money transfers and flight bookings, with a good example being WeChat which had more than a billion users.

In the West, Facebook was trying to emulate this with its standalone messaging app which had now included chatbots, games and mobile payments.

Online shopping apps like China's Taobao had been first with group buying and live streaming, something which Amazon Live had now copied. Other Chinese apps that went this route were Pinduoduo and Mogu.

Facebook had copied this, with Checkout with Instagram enabling 130 million users to buy items by tapping on product tags without leaving the app. And Google had announced plans to add new shopping features with YouTube.

In short video apps, China again led the way with TikTok and Kuaishou; the former, from Bytedance, became the most downloaded app on the iOS App Store for five straight quarters.

Snapchat had added a feature known as Lens Challenges which appears to be inspired by TikTok, while Facebook had launched Lasso to compete with TikTok.

In the 5G arena, the three telcos in China were piloting trials in more than a dozen cities with a total population of more than 167 million. In 5G patents, China was out in front again, with 3400, compared to 2051 in South Korea and 1368 in the US.

Research firms like Forrester and Nikkei had forecast that China would be the winner in the global race to roll out 5G infrastructure, the survey said.

AI was being used to pay subway fares, for hotel check-ins, shopping, recommendations and for suggesting content for browsing.

Surveillance was also aided by AI, with criminals being targeted, traffic laws being enforced, citizens being identified and crowds being controlled, all through the use of this technology.

Beijing was also creating a system to rank all citizens by means of social credit by 2020. "China’s social credit system relies on a series of rewards and punishments meant to encourage people and businesses to abide by rules and to promote integrity and trustworthiness in society at large," the survey said.

"In reality, there is no central scoring system but a patchwork of different schemes and apps with differing criteria across provinces, cities and villages. Expect to hear more about social credit in the coming year as the deadline approaches and different local governments scramble to show that they are meeting their targets."

About 13.5 million Chinese were classified as being untrustworthy, according to the National Development and Reform Commission, while 20.5 million people could not buy airline tickets as they had failed to repay debts.

Additionally, 5.7 million high-speed train tickets were denied to people due to their "untrustworthy" behaviour.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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