The competition between China and the United States in Artificial Intelligence (AI) development has always been ongoing and tricky to quantify. While there has been some hard numbers, they have been open to interpretation.
The latest numbers were derived from technology analysts CB Insights, which reports that China has overtaken the United States in the funding of AI startups.
Then again it’s not a straightforward victory for China. In terms of the volume of individual deals, the country only accounts for 9 percent of the total, while the United States leads in both the total number of AI startups and total funding overall. That is to say China is ahead when it comes to the dollar value of AI startup funding, and according to CB Insights, the country accounted for 48 percent of the world’s total AI startup funding in 2017, with the United States comparatively holding 38 percent.
This certainly does not come as a surprise, as truth is China has always been aggressive with its quest to become the global leader in AI. The reason behind China emerging as an AI hotbed is because of its government support and growing venture capital funding.
China’s natural advantages in AI are well-documented. For one, the country has a huge population of 1.4 billion people, which offers a wealth of data and opportunity for companies to scale quickly. Not to mention, China’s thriving mobile Internet ecosystem also provides a test bed for AI researchers to collect and analyze valuable demographics and transactional data.
Besides, its AI sector also has the backing of a central government that’s able to quickly shift resources, and the country’s looser approach to digital regulations means companies can experiment more freely.
The rapid growth of AI in China can also be witnessed in Beijing as they laid out a development plan in July 2017 to become the world leader in AI, with an aim to build a domestic AI industry worth at least 1 trillion yuan (around US$1,5 billion).
Chris Nicholson, a former Bloomberg news editor who co-founded Tencent-backed artificial intelligence firm Skymind told DigiDay, “We saw lots of interests in AI in China, and the sector is moving so fast in the country. Beijing supports AI, while Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent are all getting into AI.”
Research firm CB Insights also selected seven Chinese startups – including English teaching app Liulishuo and ByteDance, news aggregator Toutiao and Musical.ly for its AI 100 list.
Meanwhile China also has its own AI unicorn – iCarbonX, a biotech company has achieved its US$1 billion valuation after its Series A. The startup built a digital life ecosystem combining biological, psychological, and behavior data with internet technology and AI.
Imagine entering into a house that is to be built in the next 5 years. Or looking to your left and seeing the Eiffel Tower, which you will visit on your trip to Paris next month. Such scenarios are among the visions promised by Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) – and it’s easy to see why the hype surrounding the industry has extended over the decade.
However, since then, we’ve witnessed the quiet failure of Google Glass, the passing fad of Pokemon Go, and the somewhat controversial Magic Leap. Augmented and Virtual reality tech, despite that still hasn’t become mainstream.
While multinationals and venture capitals are still interested in the potential of AR/VR which stretches beyond industries, it has slowed down since its heights in 2016.
The decline for AR/VR begin at the start of 2017 and has been on the drop since then. According to Crunchbase, in the first quarter of 2017, only 26 companies with AR or VR-focused businesses raised a disclosed funding round. Together, the firms raised just over US$200 million.
Moving on to 2018, it has been a quiet start for the VR/AR technology. But that’s not to say there hasn’t been progressing in the field – the technology is gradually gaining ground in Asia, with China consumers leading the region.
In the Philippines, Zipmatch, an online real estate platform is one of the first companies in Southeast Asia to implement VR technology on a massive scale. Their 360 virtual reality service, accessible via both the website and mobile, showcases more than 300 properties. This allows brokers to show potential buyers the property in a more experiential and immersive way while forsaking the need for an actual visit.
The new technology makes it easier for home buyers to check out real estate projects they are interested in, with or without a pair of 360 Virtual Reality goggles.
In a small cafe at Beijing, there’s also a development towards the next phase of cinema through the implementation of virtual reality. Yue Cheng Technology’s cafe is a tiny one-seater, and customers who buys a drink can try its VR set for free. It also has a second cinema, where customers can pay US$5 to US$12 to watch VR movies inside a big-box electronics retailer.
While the idea of virtual reality cinema is natural and complementary, the experience is still in the beginning stages and generating profit continues to be a struggle. Nevertheless, this constitutes a new channel for filmmakers and marketers, opening up diversity in the design and layout of immersive storytelling.
On the other hand, Chinese media giant Tencent has also been investing in VR entertainment, having invested in live-streamed VR concerts for music artists as well as purchasing the rights to 300 Japanese anime franchises.
The thing is compared to other countries in Asia, China is especially good at pushing VR to the mass market. Nationwide, VR cafes and experience zones are springing up, and taking the lead in this tech adoption is ecommerce giant Alibaba.
In 2016, the ecommerce featured its virtual reality shopping platform over Singles Day, reshaping the retail industry. The integration of AR/VR into retail models transformed the way people shop and influence how retailers can design their stores and user experience.
It can be effective in gaining customer loyalty through adding personalization and enhancing customer experiences. With shoppers being able to experience full retail environments via their smart devices, Southeast Asia is one of the world’s most mobile-centric region, pose a massive potential for brands to win customers at the point of sale with VR/AR.
Augmented reality has also found its way into Asia’s fashion retail space. Metail, a fashion startup has made an impact in the fashion retail industry, through a virtual fitting room technology which can show shoppers how a dress would look on them without the need to physically try them on.
When it comes to buying clothes, this ability for size visualization discovered by Metail fills the space where customers want to see how clothes look and fit their own personal shape.
Then there’s the fun and games, which is the most closely associated industry with this tech. From virtual reality theme parks like EXA Global to the nostalgic augmented reality Pokemon Go, AR/VR technology is pervasive in gaming.
There’s The Void in New York and then there’s EXA Global in Southeast Asia. Melding real-world environments with hyperreality, the startup is a hype reality theme park that allows players to enter into a world to save the planet from aliens.
Besides immersive gaming, the startup also pioneers its hardware and gaming content in-house. The startup’s sister company Mediasoft is responsible for VR gaming content and has produced more than 50 original titles.
Meanwhile, in Indonesia, another multimedia company, Octagon Studio also produces VR and AR products and solutions for mobile and wearable devices. They’re known for their 4D AR educational flash cards, which images pop up when viewed a mobile app, in addition to games, AR wearable clothing, and 3D animation for engineering,
From computer gaming to real estate tourism, education, and even health, the innovations of virtual and augmented reality can be seen. So why is the tech still not a widespread reality?
Many said its an egg and chicken standoff – that even though the technology of headsets has developed, the industry generally still lacks the content needed to supply. But without a large enough audience to appeal to, media companies wouldn’t produce VR content.
And although the pervasive use of mobile in Asia can be the solution to the hardware problem, but still there are challenges that need to be overcome. According to Apple’s Tim Cook, that’s all-day battery life, mobile connectivity, and telco cross-subsidization.
While it would take time for technology to catch up and for the tech to immerse into everyday life, but undeniably the gap between virtual and reality is definitely getting closer.
It’s all in the past. The days when China was associated with sweatshops and cheaply manufactured labels. Although journalists are still reporting cases of child labor and unsatisfactory workplaces in China, the three words – Made in China no longer represents the country
The negative connotations which represent the exploitation of its high population demographics and low-wage advantage have brought forth the country rapid development and now the country is sitting on the laurels of high growth.
Though we may still laugh at the labels of misspelled or wrongly translated English, it no longer bears the same weight. China now represents one of the largest ecommerce markets, rivaling the United States.
In fact, Emarketer.com evaluated the total retail sales of different countries and discovered that both United States and China’s online business take one-fifth of the world’s digital sales share.
And despite the fact how American giants like eBay and Amazon technically built the ecommerce industry, the Chinese ecommerce players are gradually taking over.
Over the past five years, e-commerce growth in China has exploded – accounting for an average of 43 percent growth, with online sales now representing one-fifth of the total retail. This is just products. Consumers are also increasingly buying experiences and services online.
The development of ecommerce also extends to export as statistics from JD.com shows that Chinese-made products, including popular smartphones like XiaoMi, sports equipment like Li-Ning, and household appliances like Midea are sold to more than 200 countries and regions in the world.
In fact, according to a report by China’s Ministry of Commerce, the export transaction for China’s cross-border ecommerce has reached an amount of 2.75 trillion yuan, that is about US$415.3 billion in just the first half of 2017.
Chinese electronics giant Hisense also disclosed that 520,000 of its televisions were sold out in less than 24 hours during Black Friday in the United States.
Although this growth is partly attributed to China’s population size and the rise of urban middle class. A key characteristic to this strong ecommerce market in China is still due to the innovations are seen in Chinese ecommerce startups.
While Amazon may have invented our online shopping addiction. China is where it is taken to the next level. Take China’s online retail giant Alibaba and its online platform Tmall for example.
Tmall is a virtual shopping mall and every brand has an official store page, complete with videos and interactive content. There is usually a standard format, but the page can be customized to fit every retailer’s unique needs.
Cosmetic brands, for instance, can livestream their makeup tutorials along with their products.This makes shopping online as engaging as shopping in person while educating users about their product without the need to leave the comfort of their home.
This serves not just as a point-of-sale, but also a key branding platform through real-time engagement and an extra layer of interaction.
While ecommerce sales are on the rise, majority been pouring are still made in real life, Knowing this, Alibaba and its smaller rival JD.com despite making about 80 percent of ecommerce sale, have both been pouring billions into physical retail.
In the last two years, Alibaba has spent billions of dollar in establishing a physical footprint that includes a grocery store chain, a luxury shopping center, as well as their own branded mall in Jack Ma’s hometown of Hangzhou. Recently, Alibaba has even made a single US$29 billion investment in hypermart operator Sun Art.
The thing is Chinese ecommerce are not just expanding to physical retails but rather revolutionizing the way it works. In last year’s Taobao Maker Festival, Alibaba featured two new technologies to disrupt the offline retail space.
First, it was embracing the new retail strategy where big data technology connects and optimizes offline outlets and online stores to enhance customer experience. Second, the ecommerce giant released an experimental cashierless store called Tao Cafe and smart speaker Tmall Genie.
Competitor JD.com also sees the future growth is offline given their release of Take, a new technology tool for physical retailers. By combining online shopping trends with sensors in-store, the tech aims to provide better insights into offline shopping behavior.
While there’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States, China has Single’s Day, otherwise known as the Double 11 shopping festival with big deals and promotions. The founder of the holiday was Tmall’s CEO Daniel Zhang, as a way to make single people less lonely.
But soon the holiday has blossomed into the world’s largest single shopping date exponentially. For comparison, Alibaba’s 2017 total sale was RMB 162.8 billion, which translate to roughly US$25.3 billion, and is more than Cyber Monday and Black Friday combined.
Another significance for Double 11 is not just its sales, but rather the date has morphed into an important multi-day shopping festival complete with a live stream gala event featuring Jack Ma dancing to Michael Jackson, an interactive runway show, and a new retail dream. It’s not just another day of sales.
A newer trend that has crept up in China is the symbiotic partnerships between e-commerce platforms and brands in terms of distribution and design.
Especially on big shopping occasions, it is not uncommon for e-commerce platforms to set up pop-up shops in high traffic locations — usually with brands that do not have physical locations of their own. The goal is to provide a hands-on shopping experience and then purchase online.
For example, the collaboration between Beats by Dre and Tmall has popped up that lets users experience the power of the new Beats noise-canceling headphones by simulating what they would feel like on an airplane. There is no cash register in the store, just tablets to place your order via Tmall and have them delivered to your home.
Another example of partnership is in the form of exchanging data for intellectual property. Mattel, whose brands include Barbie and Hot Wheels has inked a deal with Alibaba, to exchanging browsing behavior to inform new product designs, as well as selling its products to Chinese consumers on Tmall.
Ultimately, the design of ecommerce sites in China has made their shoppers treat e-commerce platforms as more than just another purchase platform, they do not just visit it during sales day.
Chinese consumers head on to ecommerce site for exploration and discovery, it’s just like going to the mall but just at the comfort of your home. At times, they even go online just to see what’s new or trending, not just when there’s a need to purchase.
In the years ahead, with the innovative streak presented by China’s ecommerce platforms, it is most likely that one day a change of dynasty will arrive.
2017 has ended, but it will always be remembered as the year of the bitcoin.
It can be hard to forget with the rates of cryptocurrency surging more than 400% since January or the amusing name change of the ice tea company inspired by blockchain.
Still, there remain many rhetorics about bitcoin and its backbone technology blockchain. Some experts speculate it as another dot.com bubble, while others are predicting that its value will continue to rise.
Nevertheless, cryptocurrency has definitely driven a lot of attention and awareness, from interested investors to head-scratching audiences who are still unclear of the trend.
Bitcoin, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies – to date some might have used them interchangeably but cryptocurrency at its very core dictates the facilitation of peer-to-peer transaction.
Few people are aware, but cryptocurrencies emerged as a side product of another invention. Satoshi Nakamoto, the unknown inventor of Bitcoin, the first and still most important cryptocurrency, never intended to invent a currency.
At first, he was looking to develop a peer-to-peer electronic cash system. It’d be decentralized with no server or central authority but still be able to prevent double spending.
Through this Satoshi came up with the idea of a decentralized network – one where every single entity of the network is to hold the list with all transactions to check.
In other words, a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin consists a network of peers. Every peer holds a record of the complete history of all transaction and thus the balance of an account.
If a transaction is confirmed, made permissible by the user public key cryptography, then it’s set in stone and no longer reversible, becoming part of an immutable record of historical transactions of the so-called blockchain.
This makes sending money as easy as sending an email. It doesn’t matter where you are, or where you are sending to but the effect of cryptocurrency is to save money.
The invention of cryptocurrency didn’t just benefit business transactions, it opened up an industry and also many possibilities.
Of course, one being the financial business we are all so familiar of, which uses cryptocurrencies because of its low or close to none fee, as well as its instant ability to move any amount of money around.
On the other hand, there are those that utilize it for its blockchain technology, the decentralized network that allows every entity on the network to receive the same message at the same time.
Shiraz Malik, a regional expert even foresees it being implemented in the systems of airline companies through blockchain-powered loyalty programs and user-friendly mobile services. According to the expert, the technology would allow for streamlined authentication, data distribution, and security protocol.
“Blockchain can ensure that everyone involved in travel – airline crew, airport staff, ground services crew and passengers – have access to the same, up-to-date, verified information about arrivals, departures, and delays,” said Malik, who is vice president of sales APAC for CellPoint Mobile.
“This can help to avoid situations where airline and airport websites, mobile apps, text messages, passengers and staff members have outdated or conflicting information about flight statuses.”
Despite the speculations surrounding bitcoin, the frenzy, however, is proving to be essential in the developing markets of Southeast Asia.
In fact, most Southeast Asian startups are embracing cryptocurrencies both as investment products, as well as cost-effective methods for offering services.
So much that the remittance economy in the Philippines is the highest in the world – contributing to US$26 billion in a single year alone.
According to Forbes, approximately 10 million Filipinos have employed abroad, and this statistics does not include workers who are taking jobs in the cities, so they can send money home to their families in the more remote area.
That’s an arduous process when overseas domestic workers try to send money back home. They face steep fees relying on traditional cash transfer services. Even then, there are no guarantees that the beneficiary will be able to receive it, nevertheless receiving it immediately.
According to Mikko Perez, the founder, and CEO of Ayannah, it’s also not uncommon for agents to run out of money and force receivers to return the next day. It is generally time-consuming for people who have to travel hours just to pick up their money.
Stepping in to solve these issues, startups, and services like BloomSolutions Inc or coin.ph are using cryptocurrencies as a solution to reduce remittance fees, in addition to driving financial inclusion.
This is through creating crypto-powered services, accepting bitcoins from overseas and converting them into pesos, dinars or any desire currency, then deliver those funds to the final beneficiary through domestic transfer methods.
There’s no volatility risk and the beneficiary does not even need to know that those funds have been transmitted via bitcoin. Less money is spent doing so, and this makes it both affordable and accessible to a wide range of customers.
This is just the first mile. The service also renders the need for a physical agent or remittance outlets and traveling altogether. In Singapore for instance, migrant workers can use applications like Toast to do a peer-to-peer money transfer through their smartphones.
However, though some may argue that if you put it into the context that it is simply impossible for small bitcoin startups to overthrow the Western Union or Remitly at this stage.
Still, bitcoin and blockchain provide a compelling alternative for a small subsection of their customers, and unarguably startups are always best at focusing to solve the smallest possible problem.
In Southeast Asia, it’s not just remittance. Bitcoin and blockchain open up a world of possibilities from salary payments to business incorporation. This is just the beginning.
Most people don’t notice it. But it is intriguing how Uber, the world’s largest taxi company does not own any modes of transportation; or how the popular media owner Facebook does not create any content. And these are just two examples of businesses in the sharing economy.
A time where crowdsourced assets become the core of the supply chain, the sharing economy is gradually replacing the traditional large-scale production. Roles of designers and manufacturers or distributors and retailers are blurred with most businesses operating on a peer-to-peer model.
You may be familiar with taxi services like Uber or home-sharing service Airbnb, but what exactly is the sharing economy? What is it that makes these companies different? Just as its name implies, the sharing economy describes a system that is based on shared assets rather than individual ownership.
Through sharing, this brings along the benefits of allowing assets that would otherwise remain idle to generate more value. For example, renting out a vacant room or an unused car. This can provide owners with more income and the people who share or rent assets can cover the cost of full ownership.
With this new paradigm, the balance of power is thus shifted from manufacturers to consumers, curbing large-scale production, and succeedingly creating a new business cycle, i.e. Interface Owners.
Exemplary to the sharing economy, Interface Owners refer to startup companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Facebook which act as an intermediary in these peer-to-peer transactions.
In this case, Airbnb helps travelers to rent spare rooms, apartments or entire homes, thereby generating income for hosts while providing travelers with savings over hotel rates. Meanwhile, ride-sharing services like Uber allow people to share long-distance rides.
But Airbnb and Uber are just the tips of the iceberg, various sharing economy startups have emerged across the globe especially in the Asia Pacific Region. From China-based Didi Kuaidi to Singapore headquartered Grab, various businesses have emerged in Asia, covering almost everything from vegetables to designer handbag.
Although the United States has been the pioneer of sharing businesses such as Uber and Lyft, Asia, in general, is the region to offer innovative services that bridge many existing gaps in life today.
From Meicai, a startup that connects farmers and restaurants to the infamous Touch which launched and withdrew its shared sex doll services, China has been in the frenzy of the sharing economy. In fact, in China alone, about half of the country’s population, that is 1.4 billion people are using online sharing services.
But at the same time, China’s soaring sharing startups are failing. By the end of November last year, at least six well-known bike-sharing startups has shut down, and more than RMB 1 billion (about US$ 150 million) in deposits could not be refunded to useers.
The question, then again is not how popular it will be but rather is it sustainable?
Ultimately, trust is at heart of the sharing economy. Just look at Airbnb who persuade people to rent out their homes to complete strangers, are reassured that the renter has been checked across social networks and the web.
Similarly, an issue of trust has also burst in the Asia Pacific scene. A prime example is seen in China whereby startup E Umbrella has lost most of the 300,000 umbrellas that it has rented out in the country. Other cases are the frequent vandalism of shared bicycles, whereby one case in Singapore sees a person throwing the bicycles from their apartments.
But it’s not just from consumers perspective, the sharing economy has received critic for roughshod over regulatory and tax regimes, gaining an inappropriate business advantage. It is also arguably paying low pay to service providers when compared to the pre-sharing economy.
Then again, despite the hiccups. From a local perspective, companies such as these are succeeding in the Asia Pacific region due to customer’s need to have something quick and on-the-go, which is the formula provided by all these platforms like
Besides, these business models have better chances to grow, adapt, and scale up. Though unlike full-stacked companies that have ownership of the whole production line, they are still able to have a sort of quality control over the services or products being streamlined into their platform.
Take a company like Grab, there is a number of standards and requirements that the platform requires of the user base before you can register. This makes it one of the power player in the equation.
Southeast Asia, on the other hands, has foreseen a spread of office sharing startups in crowded cities like Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. This sharing economy not only solves the problem of lack of space but rather it also provides a cafe-like environment where minds can mingle and connect.
From changing economics and customer preferences, the momentum of the sharing economy is unlikely to dissipate anytime soon. In other words, the sharing economy is here to stay in Asia. But then the question becomes, what are the requirements for the startup to stay and get on the top?