Is China’s Shenzhen the Capital of IoT?

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China is rising. Nowhere is this fact more visible and clear than the booming flashy new skyscrapers and in China’s technological landscape. Their trains, for example, go at 600 miles per hour, double that of America’s which barely has any fast mass transit system.

Banks are outdated in China. Everyone now makes instant payments through AliPay or the WeChat pay app, accounting for the vast majority of transactions in the country. QR codes are everywhere, scan and done. Robo advisors are common place.

As a manufacturing powerhouse, Shenzen in particular, which has an economy larger than that of Portugal or Ireland, is seemingly finding a niche in the nascent Internet of Things industry which has potential to considerably increase productivity.

They manufacture many of our gadgets, thus have first-hand knowledge of how they work, how they can be improved, made better. Leading to innovation as smart kids tweak things. Perhaps more importantly, leading to adoption as workers show off what these cool new things can do.

Here is South China Morning Post giving us a glimpse of the future: “Take the bike-sharing boom that has gripped Shanghai and other mainland cities over the past year…. find your brightly-coloured bike (there are an estimated 450,000 of them parked around Shanghai), open the Mobile app on your phone, scan the QR code on the bike, and you are away.”

For added efficiency, the bikes are GPS tracked. No need to deal with any pocket change, just scan and go. More efficiency could be added and this is where the west still rules – in the knowledge economy. Smart contracts based on ethereum’s technology, for example, could add clauses, but ethereum is big in China.

The Global Blockchain Summit was held in Shanghai last year, an event seen by many as the blockchain’s coming out party. However, many complained that China’s internet connection with the outside world was limited at best. The event, for example, had no livestream due to bandwidth issues. In this digital age, the great firewall in many ways creates a disconnected island.

Many parts of the country are still very poor. Authorities, as bitcoiners recently found, can be very heavy handed and can operate with no public accountability, transparency or input. China does not have such things as public consultations. Its regulations are stifling at best.

At the blockchain summit, for example, an official briefly spoke and his tone appeared to be not very friendly. We criticize American regulators for emphasizing “responsible” innovation, but with the Chinese the attitude is on a different level. More of an explicit assumption that you are told what to do and you do obey.

Bureaucratic speak, the Chinese call it dismissively. It tends to fall on deaf ears as the smarter Chinese innovators apply Silicon Valley’s mantra of move fast and break things, to which could be added, and let regulators catch up.

Their new earned freedom through technological innovation has allowed this ancient culture to inspire us and look in awe as they jump through centuries and leap to the 21st, at least in some parts of the country.

Their continued restrictions, however, means they are not quite drivers of the future, at least yet, as far as intellectual thinking and vision is concerned. That inspiration still comes from the west, but their unique position as a vast developing country that lacks much of entrenched infrastructure as may be the case in the west, especially in banking, may mean they are the first to adopt some of this intellectual thinking which aims to improve our world.

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