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Sino the Times - Industry 4.0 and Artificial Intelligence in China

I saw a fun graph the other day, you know the ones I mean: the Statista bar graph style with no real importance on the state of anything. Things like “How much has Kelly Vero spent on NFTs in the last 3 years”—that kind of thing. This particular bar graph was related to AI, NLP, and ChatGPT (because, reasons). It said something like “How Cool is China with AI by Demographic” and it got me thinking about how I might answer that question myself. Simply, I always answer any question related to China with Xiao Zhan, Hu Yi Tian or Wang Yibo. But Kelly, this is serious because this impacts our entire outlook on AI! So I thought about it again and realised that China's affinity with AI was borne out of convenience surely? Again, my Ockham's Razor moment might be about drop shipping or shopping in general. After all, retail is pretty important. Am I close enough? Not nearly.

Before I go down the rabbit hole of AI, let’s set the scene a bit with Industry 4.0. The fourth industrial revolution has been nothing more than a whisper in my area of expertise (video games) yet if I sidestep into my other day job (digital fashion and g-commerce) then BOOM! It’s responsible for everyone losing their jobs, the reason why we have landfill, the MTM problem, literally everything to do with the supply chain where we can’t replace physical with digital.

Use the Fourth

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, refers to the current era of technological advancements that are transforming the way we live, work, and interact with each other. This revolution is about the use cases and utility of merging several technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, 3D printing, and advanced materials.

We know from history class that the first industrial revolution started in the late 18th century with the mechanisation of production through the use of steam power, followed by the second industrial revolution in the late 19th century which introduced mass production through the use of electricity. The third industrial revolution started in the 1960s with the rise of automation and computerisation, which led to the development of the digital economy.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution builds upon the third by combining digital technologies with physical systems. This has led to the creation of cyber-physical systems that can monitor and control physical processes with unprecedented accuracy and efficiency. These technologies are changing the way we live and work, creating new opportunities for innovation and economic growth.

The rise of big data and analytics; the use of sensors and connectivity to enable real-time monitoring and control, the development of autonomous systems such as self-driving cars (whose sector will be worth $98.89 Billion in China by 2030), and drones. The increasing use of artificial intelligence to enhance decision-making and automation have helped to create a significant shift in the way we organise and operate our economies and societies, with the potential to drive significant changes in productivity, sustainability, and quality of life. Do you see where I’m going with the bar graph theory and China’s involvement in how this will benefit the global us? China's investment and development in artificial intelligence has significant implications for the Fourth Industrial Revolution globally:

  • Advancements in automation: AI-powered automation is one of the key drivers of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and China's investment in this area has enabled the development of advanced manufacturing and logistics systems. This has led to significant improvements in efficiency, productivity, and cost reduction.

  • Impact on the workforce: As AI and automation become more prevalent in China's economy, there will be a significant impact on the workforce. Some jobs will be replaced by machines, while others will require new skills to work with and manage AI systems. This will require significant investments in training and education to ensure that workers are prepared for the new job market.

The Great F(AI)rewall

The comparison between the first and the fourth industrial revolutions is a stretch, I know, but this is me, and my thought processes have never been (that) academic in construction, I’m an interested observer. I want to visualise that bell curve of evolution. I guess that in order to know how China has coped with the rise of AI, don’t we first have to understand the impact of the Great Firewall of China? You know what that is right? The Great Firewall of China is a complex system of internet censorship and surveillance used by the Chinese government to control and restrict access to online content within China. The system is made up of a combination of legal and technical measures, including website blocking, keyword filtering, and monitoring of internet traffic.

The main purpose of the Great Firewall is to control the flow of information and prevent Chinese citizens from accessing content that is deemed politically sensitive or harmful to the ruling Communist Party's interests. This includes websites and social media platforms that are critical of the government or promote ideas such as democracy and human rights.

It has been in place since the early 2000s and has been strengthened over time with new technologies and regulations. It is widely regarded as one of the most sophisticated and extensive systems of online censorship in the world.

Despite the restrictions imposed by the Great Firewall, many Chinese citizens have found ways to circumvent the system using tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxy servers. However, the government has also taken measures to crack down on these methods, making it increasingly difficult for people to access blocked content. It would be foolish to disregard AI as not being possibly the most powerful tool in cracking down currently.

The Powerhouse

From the development of machine tools (1760-1840) to Emerging AI industries (2011-): China's investment in AI has also spurred the development of new industries such as autonomous vehicles, facial recognition, and natural language processing. These industries have the potential to create new economic opportunities and transform various sectors of the economy.

World’s Fair (1791-) to Global competitiveness: China's investment in AI has made it a global leader in the field, and this has significant implications for its competitiveness in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As AI becomes increasingly important for businesses and industries around the world, China's leadership in this area will give it a significant advantage in the global economy.

China has made significant investments in artificial intelligence in recent years, which has contributed to its leadership in this field. I would love to throw in Xiao Zhan, Hu Yi Tian and Wang Yibo at this point, but let’s be honest, I can’t crowbar them into how China has become such a powerhouse of AI and why there are myriad reasons as to why China is set up and comfortable with AI systems:

  • Government support: The Chinese government has recognized the potential of AI and has made it a priority to develop the technology. The government has provided funding, infrastructure, and policy support to promote the development and use of AI. Remember that this is also controlled at state level.

  • Large market: China has a large and growing market for AI applications, which has attracted significant investment from both domestic and foreign companies. This has created a favourable environment for the development and deployment of AI systems. It is utilised from the inside of China to well, China a kind of B2B echo chamber, not too dissimilar from India’s technology policies but less open.

  • Data availability: China has a vast amount of data generated by its large population, which provides a significant advantage in developing and training AI systems. The availability of data has also enabled the development of advanced machine learning techniques such as deep learning. Behind the Great Firewall of China is a wealth of data management services which are centralised for specific purposes a bit like a hive mind and in and of itself something deep and without contraflow away from the central policy.

  • Research and development: China has invested heavily in research and development of AI technology. Chinese universities and research institutions have produced many AI-related publications and patents, and the country is home to some of the world's leading AI researchers.

China's focus on AI has significant implications for Industry 4.0, including advancements in automation, changes to the workforce, the emergence of new industries, and increased global competitiveness. China's strong government support, large market, abundant data, and specific investments in research and development have contributed to its comfortable and well-established position in the field of AI. In addition to government support, Chinese companies are also playing a major role in the development and deployment of Industry 4.0 technologies. Chinese tech giants such as Huawei, Tencent, and Alibaba are investing heavily in artificial intelligence, big data analytics, and cloud computing, while Chinese robotics companies are rapidly expanding both domestically and globally.

Of course AI is more than drop shipping and Singles’ Day or Double Twelve, but the impact on us globally especially in my lines of work is affected by how much we automate, or what we produce as people and groups and not just data points. The demography will buck the trend of the larger share of the population, because it’s the university end of the chart that is most closely associated with early adoption rather than Crossing the Chasm. If we can learn what the biggest researcher of AI is doing, will it help us to be more effective in what we create and produce on a human level too? That’s another article for another day. For now, I would say that China's role in Industry 4.0 is significant and growing, with the country positioning itself as a major player in the development and deployment of advanced technologies that are transforming the global economy.


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