Artificial intelligence brings 'jeans' opportunity to China, experts say

Zhu Shenshen
Though China has few leading tech firms, its supply chain and information infrastructure could develop an AI-powered economy, like the jeans industry created during the Gold Rush.
Zhu Shenshen

China can leverage its unique advantages to develop in the artificial intelligence era, such as what happened with jeans manufacturers in the Gold Rush era, industry officials said.

Though China has few leading firms such as OpenAI and NVIDIA, the country has an advanced supply chain and information infrastructure to develop an AI-powered economy, scientists, investors, and economists have shared in forums held recently.

China's AI industry would capitalize on the business opportunity, referring to new opportunities and jobs created by the booming AI wave, just as surging and new demand was answered by producing jeans during the 1840s Gold Rush in the United States, said Professor Li Daokui, director of the Academic Center for Chinese Economic Practice and Thinking (ACCEPT) at Tsinghua University.

Li shared his vision at the Harvard Business Review-China's 2023 New Growth Summit, held recently in Beijing. The speakers of the summit agreed that AI would be similar to the Steam Revolution in shaping world history and bring significant impact to various industries, and create new businesses and jobs.

For China, there are three possible opportunities brought by AI, as data collection; robotics and its accessories; and accompanying industries such as AI-adopted care services for people, especially for the elderly and children, Li said.

China does not have leading AI firms to compete with OpenAI (ChatGPT's developer) or NVIDIA now, but the country has the world's leading supply chain to manufacture AI and smart devices, said Wang Yuquan, founding partner of Haiyin Capital and a veteran tech industry researcher.

Artificial intelligence brings 'jeans' opportunity to China, experts say
Zhu Shenshen / SHINE

China doesn't have leading AI firms, but the country has the world's leading supply chain to manufacture AI and smart devices, said Wang Yuquan, founding partner of Haiyin Capital.

The majority of smart devices, from computers and smartphones to sensors, are developed and made in China now.

China has the know-how to turn "prototypes in labs" to "products in lines ready for volume production," in very short periods, Wang told the summit.

For many years, the new goods produced in China have mainly been goods conceived by other countries' innovators. That ceased to be true with the emergence of tech giants including Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance, said Edmund Phelps, the 2006 Nobel Laureate of Economic Sciences.

China has made great leaps forward in developing innovations in areas such as finance, artificial intelligence and biotechnology, which can be used to solve social issues like population aging, he told the summit.

AI was also a major topic during an innovation event held by the School of Management at Fudan University through this week.

"Artificial intelligence not only changes various technology and industry tracks, but also entire socio-economic development," said Lu Wenxiong, dean of the School of Management.

During the Fudan event, robots, large language models or LLMs, and related management issues were discussed and debated.

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