Biz / Tech

Digital engines that are changing our lives

Rich Zhu
One-stop government services, digitalized driving schools, less traffic congestion and more transparent commerce are among the benefits coming to the fore in Shanghai.
Rich Zhu
Digital engines that are changing our lives
ti gong / Ti Gong

Leading AI firms, including SenseTime, Yitu, Cloud and SAIC, are regarded as major movers in Shanghai’s transformation.

One-stop government services, digitalized driving schools, less traffic congestion and more transparent commerce. Those benefits and more are coming to the fore as Shanghai is speeding up efforts to turn itself into a “smart” city.

All that progress is made possible by artificial intelligence and blockchain — the dual engines at the vanguard of new technologies.

“Shanghai has taken a leading position on AI nationwide, thanks to hardware, data and algorithm development,” said Xu Peng, a senior official at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Though Shanghai has made great strides on the road to becoming a smart city, gaps with major Western cities remain, especially in ecosystems. Xu told a forum that Shanghai needs to upgrade its efforts in infrastructure development, data gathering and talent nurturing. The forum was held in the Lingang Special Area, the city’s newest AI industrial center and part of China (Shanghai) Free Trade Zone.

Shanghai now hosts 1,100 AI firms and a third of the nation’s talent in that sector. It has announced new strategies to improve ecosystem development, a 10 billion yuan (US$1.43 billion) AI fund, and preferential policies covering taxes and benefits for overseas companies and professionals.

For example, AI firms in Lingang can enjoy a special tax rate of 15 percent, compared with 25 percent or more for other companies. Overseas talent coming to Lingang will be given special treatment on taxes, residency application approvals and home purchases, according to local officials.

Shanghai’s 10 billion yuan AI fund will be tripled in the future, according to Wu Wei, general manager of the fund.

Fifteen industry giants, including Huawei, Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent, Microsoft, SenseTime and Xiaomi, have begun offering local AI developer services. They cover online public technology platforms, event hosting and incubation services. More than 80 technology firms now contribute to 19 AI sciences in the city, including transportation, health care and finance.

In smart transportation, data and AI technologies can be used in smart driving, traffic control and bus information, helping relieve problems like traffic jams and air pollution, Zhang Ying, vice director of the Shanghai Economy and Information Technology Commission, told a recent smart transportation forum.

Shanghai-based Chelun offers AI services for professional instructors in driving schools nationwide, which has already helped 100 million people get driving licenses.

Chelun’s smart system records drivers’ routes and operations, and offers customized advice to more than 8,000 driving schools nationwide, based on data management and analysis.

This will “reshape” the whole industry by improving the schools’ efficiency, passing rates and safety education, said Wu Feng, Chelun’s founder and chief executive.

Phoenix Finance provides financial services to about 12 million users, with a total transaction volume of nearly 100 billion yuan. Phoenix finance regards 5G, artificial intelligence and blockchain as the future of digital financial services.

AI and blockchain help a whole industry “know” its customers, provide customized services and facilitate business deals and contracts that are traceable and transparent, Vince Zhang, president of Phoenix Finance, told the Wealth Society event in Shanghai.

Growing wealth

In 2018, there were 123 million people globally with individual investable assets of between 300,000 yuan and 10 million yuan globally, he said, predicting that the number will rise to 183 million people in 2022. That creates a great market potential for digital technologies.

Blockchain technology, which offers transparency, openness, trackability and authenticity, is used in Shanghai’s “single window” service platform for international trade.

The platform integrates 10 major functions of 22 departments, covering all regulations and major procedures in international trade. It makes use of blockchain for financial insurance, supply chains, Internet of Things and intelligent manufacturing.

The “single window” system helps reduce duplication in submitting data, promotes efficiency for companies and improves customs regulation, local officials said.

In October, blockchain was officially designated a national strategic technology for China. The nation today has eight blockchain industry alliances, with Shanghai accounting for half. Firms like Ping An, Baowu Steel and ZhongAn are developing blockchain applications covering financial technology, industry chain collaboration and smart city management, city officials said recently.

Giant Group also said AI, 5G and blockchain are game-changing technologies for the future.

“These technologies will reshape the whole industry and change society,” Giant Chairman Shi Yuzhu said during a recent ceremony to celebrated Giant Group’s 30th anniversary in Shanghai.

The company has invested about 800 million yuan in two companies with blockchain technologies or businesses, industry sources said.

“Some companies will rise, some giants will decline within the next three to five years,” Shi added.

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