The internet is yesterday's news in China

The internet is yesterday's news in China.png

In this article, we're going to talk about China's digital leap forward and the fact that it has been developed for so long and become so advanced, that even the internet is just yesterday's news.

Back in 2013 the business community in China started discussing the second half of the mobile economy era. I’m talking about internet businesses specifically. They had a great sense of determination, and urgency was common among them. The main thought was ”either we adapt to the fast evolving technology of artificial intelligence and big data analysis and computer chips and upgrade - or be destroyed”

As a result, since 2017 - after this period between 2013 and 2016 - the new keywords that were dominating the public discourse in China were “data” and “intelligence”.

Now, across just about every industry sector Chinese companies are investing heavily in R&D of the latest digital technology. The fact is, the largest internet companies such as Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu have all invested billions in building new research centers, hiring experienced AI experts and young data scientists - setting up labs to work on the algorithm developments.

The “Four CV Dragons” in China

While all of this was happening, technically savvy and internationally educated entrepreneurs with compelling tech had easily attracted venture capital to set up a bunch of startups that brought niche artificial intelligence apps to a broader market.

A couple of examples are

  • MegVii

  • SenseTime

  • Yitu Technology

  • CloudWalk

These startups are collectively referred to as China's “4 CV Dragons”.

CV, in this context, means “computer vision”, and apart from the more common AI tech like facial recognition, for example, these CV companies have also used AI technologies to transform a variety of other industries.

Tencent, the highest value company out among the dragons, has roots in gaming and online services and was strictly consumer-facing, but in 2018 it made dramatic changes in response to this new trend. For the first time in six years they announced a major restructuring to move from a consumer business towards one that caters to industries as well.

The restructuring included a bunch of things. The biggest takeaway would be the creation of a new cloud and a smart industries group. This group was focusing on AI, cloud services, big data, and security. On top of that, Tencent formed a new technology committee to better coordinate fundamental technology research at different departments within the company.

This is very important because almost all the Chinese tech players today are heading into the same direction as Tencent. Better put, they're in a rush to learn how new digital tech, including the internet of things, AI, blockchain, cloud computing, data analytics, etc, can be integrated into their businesses to unlock value from non-traditional angles.

From a consumer-focused to an enterprise-oriented internet

So in shorter terms, China's consumer-focused internet is now transforming into a more enterprise-oriented internet characterized by more advanced digital technologies and faster 5g mobile networks.

We're seeing a lot of novel inventions, things were never seen before, that they are spearheading and the advancements in 5G is extremely important in order to achieve these novel ideas.

So this transformation of businesses has been very profound, to the extent that the Internet today simply feels like old news compared to the things that are popping up now.

All these new technologies is just a result of this transformation from a mobile economy to a digital economy.

So how do we differentiate the two?

Mobile economy versus digital economy

The main identifiers of the mobile economy is that its base is on 4G mobile networks and it is led by consumers. In China, the inflection point for the mobile economy happened back in 2014-2015.

The transformation over to the digital economy - its key differentiator - is that it's led by enterprises instead of consumers, and it's on 5G mobile networks instead of 4G mobile networks. The inflection point started in 2017-2018.

This transformation has profound implications not only for China, but for emerging markers that are looking at China as a reference case when they work on their own digital transformation. That means that the players in these emerging markets need to look beyond mobile phones and the digital wallet.

What they need to focus on is positioning themselves for the next phase, which is AI and the digital economy, and they need to do that now. China's leaping forward may also give these emerging markets a sense of urgency as well. It may also be a leap frogging opportunity for them if they embrace the new technology revolution.

What's truly extraordinary with the Chinese case is the decisive commitment from the Chinese government back in 2015. There was one hot key word that the government made popular - “Internet plus”.

Soon, the Chinese government announced a sweeping vision for AI and digital economy excellence through a series of policies and initiatives. They released something called the next generation AI development plan back in July 2017, so by 2019 “Intelligent plus” was the new keyword du jour.

So, from “Internet plus” to “Intelligent plus” - that's the main distinction.

Why global dialogue and cooperation is key moving forward

The digital revolution may impose significant challenges for many smaller countries, especially those lacking technology resources and with large labour forces that might be replaced by AI.

These less developed countries and emerging markets all face an uphill battle as late comers to the AI game, but with a limited amount of infrastructure they can build these infrastructures very fast compared to the European Union, for example.

The EU already have its 4G network 40% owned by Chinese companies. If they were to move over to 5g they are forced to continue to do so with China. Now, all the talk in media about the EU and the US trying to boycott China is worrying if the EU chooses to move forward with the boycott. If Europe is going to have a plan to move into 5G without China, that means they have to destroy 40% of their current infrastructure and foot the bill themselves to rebuild all of that, if they really want to extend its structure to 5G.

The only thing is, AI runs on data and that correlation leads to a cycle of consolidation within industries.

Simply put: the more data that you have, the better your product. The better your product, the more users you will gain. The more users you gain, the more data you have.

This cycle is important to be aware of.

That's why I personally think there should be no government interference when it comes to breaking up the big tech companies, because their size and the accumulation of data that they have gathered throughout all these years is one of the main factors that their products are so good.

The better products you will be able to offer, the more it benefits humankind. It benefits society as a whole.

This is why global dialogue and cooperation has ever more importance for the next phase of the global digital economy a shared digital future not government crackdowns and boycotts, but a shared digital future that we can all benefit from.

Plastic Roads & Mass Timber: The Innovative Technologies Transforming Infrastructure

I used to live in Berlin Germany from 2015 to 2018 and one of the things that I kept hearing about all the time was the Brandenburg Airport, this expansive plan to to modernize the Berlin Airport. That airport feels like a time capsule… if you ever go to Berlin and you land there, you feel like you're back in the late 70s early 80s of East Berlin.

It's a very very sad place to be in - you definitely feel the the vibe of the city immediately when you enter the airport after you have arrived.

This new project, though, was scheduled to open back in 2011, something that Berliners are still waiting for…

Over-budget, over-deadline projects like these too often seem to be the norm, all while innovation is flourishing in the rest of the global economy.

The one thing about this though, is that appearances can definitely be deceptive, as innovation is actually thriving at all stages of infrastructure developments simply because exciting new ideas are being generated around the world and have the potential to really change the field.

And guess what: It’s all due to technology.

Let's go through a couple of examples of new solutions spearheaded by technology that is helping infrastructure to transform:

BIM (Building Information Modelling) software

If you observe a construction site from afar, you look at the exterior and you think “ it’s just an ordinary construction site”. But if you take a closer look at a construction site nowadays it will definitely reveal advances that are changing the way these type of infrastructure projects are designed. The BIM software have the ability to digitally design a construction project that moves beyond the 2d technical drawings that historically have been preferred as the main model.

What BIM does is they allow professionals - from architects to engineers to the

building managers - to collaborate on a construction project so at all stages they are involved. So when I say that it goes beyond two-dimensional technical drawings perhaps you automatically think that we're talking about 3d computer-generated design, but what BIM also does is also provide insights into functional considerations like time, costs and even the environmental impact of the project.

3d printing

3D printing is way more famous and has made more noise than BIM, and while BIM increases collaboration to improve infrastructure design on-site, other technological advances are changing the way the infrastructure is physically constructed.

3D printing is poised to totally disrupt construction sites, making it the biggest biggest threat to conventional/traditional construction methods. This 3D printing company from Holland called MX3D have built the world's first 3D printed steel bridge and the crazy thing about that is that they printed that in midair.

It involved constructing a special robot that could create weight bearing structures beneath it which then could slide forward upon to continue the project as the building materials set.

The span of this bridge is twelve and a half meters and it's due to be installed over a canal in central Amsterdam after going through all the safety testings required. The actual bridge will also include sensors to gather insights on how the bridge reacts over time as more and more people use it, which I think is awesome.

It's a technology that holds the potential to increase the efficiency of future mega cities while at the same time reducing the cost and safety concerns of operating a sprawling construction site in the middle of a large city.

New materials

While 3d printing can print steel and a whole variety of different materials that can be used on the surface of things, some specific materials that not a lot of people are talking about its actual mass timber. The new way of developing infrastructure isn't confined to all new designing and building technologies - new materials are leading the field.

Concrete used to be the primary building material and from what I see, concrete is looking to be coming to an end as the use of mass timber alternatives continue to become more and more mainstream. The way they become mainstream is because the pricing is getting more and more competitive so it's increasingly replacing other building materials like cement, steel and new products like cross laminated timber.

Cross laminated timber is formed by stacking and gluing layers of wood and something called “Glulam” which is glue-laminated timber which is formed by stacking and gluing layers of wood directly on top of each other. All of these new products are basically allowing constructions to be even higher and stronger wood buildings.

There's a couple of these wood buildings already being built in Europe:

  • HoHo Tower,Vienna (24 stories and 84 meters tall)

  • The Mjøsa Tower (18 stories and 85 meters tall)

  • Fort McMurray International Airport terminal

Using wood materials in the airport terminal construction to cut building time was ideal, given the small labor force it really took to build the the Canadian Airport. Also, because of its remote location and harsh, Northern Alberta seasonal weather conditions - it was very important to cut the building time down, and the material was godsend in order to achieve that.

Mass timber can reduce construction time up to 25 percent and it uses up to one-third the energy production of steel and one-fifth of concrete, in addition to using significantly less carbon intensive production methods.

Plastic Roads

You might not believe it, but plastic roads is becoming a thing. In this article, we've talked about the disruption of traditional building materials, and plastic roads definitely sounds very disruptive. I think its efforts to replace asphalt as a primary material in road construction could really be a thing.

Again, the Dutch has done it again: An engineering firm from Holland called KWS developed a lightweight prefabricated modular road made with recycled plastic wastes. The advantages that this has over asphalt include a quicker installation time, triple the service life and introducing an effective way to recycle the plastic that ends up in our oceans and land fields. It also has a special coating that prevents the release of micro plastics which often end up on our food supply.

There's a pilot project in the Dutch city of Zwolle - a 30 metre bike path made from 218,000 plastic cups that has sensors embedded in the road helping the KWS team capture insights, just like the steel bridge that’s 3D printed, and those insights that are captured can be used to develop plastic highways and perhaps even plastic airport runways.

So plastic roads not only have the potential to take the actual plastic waste out of the environment but actually introduce savings through faster installation and less disruptive maintenance.


Clearly, there are many exciting things going on in a field that can appear to be very traditional and not innovative for the naked eye, but the technological transformation sweeping the rest of society is in my opinion totally ready to revolutionize every aspect of society, including infrastructure.

Now, decision makers for a variety of reasons are still hesitant to create the kind of enabling environment necessary for widespread embrace of these emerging technologies.

One of the main reasons is that governments are always late to catch up with innovations, simply because they are not the ones doing the innovations.

What government and law makers are doing is spending time to find out what regulations and what taxes to implement on these companies spearheading these innovations, so there's no wonder that they are late to the game.

There’s no doubt that they have a lot of catching up to do, but hopefully we will see more of these innovative technologies improving infrastructures of the new cities to come in the future, without too much intervention.