Data Sheet—The Rise and Rise of China’s Tech Engine
Good morning from San Francisco, where the air is finally clear again. I hope you and yours had a wonderful Thanksgiving, minimally marred by the downsides of intrusive technology.
Tomorrow I head to China, where Fortune is hosting its Global Tech Forum in Guangzhou, the powerhouse capital of Guangdong province and pivot point of the Pearl River Delta. As readers of Data Sheet know well, I’ve been fascinated by China’s technological rise, particularly its innovative Internet champions. (After first visiting China in 1994, when there were mule-drawn carriages in the streets of Beijing, this will be my sixth trip in five years.) We’ve supplemented this focus on China with weekly dispatches from Clay Chandler, Fortune’s Hong Kong-based Asia editor and my co-chair for this week’s forum.
Our Western, Chinese, and other Asian participants convene this year in Guangzhou to a radically changed landscape even from our time there a year ago. China, under leader Xi Jingping, has become more assertive than any time in its modern history. U.S. President Donald Trump has initiated a full-on trade war against the world’s second-largest economy. China remains largely off limits to U.S. Internet, media, and financial services companies trying to do business there. And Hong Kong is under threat, with press freedoms there in a more precarious state than at any time since Britain handed back the colony to China in 1997.
With this backdrop, my colleagues and I plan to report back what we learn this week from our panels, interviews, and hallway conversations. China’s quest for artificial intelligence leadership is a theme that will run through the event. I’ll host a panel on the “explosion” of data with top executives from Intel, Chinese appliance maker Haier, and “Internet of Things” platform company Tuya. I’ll also interview Terah Lyons, the American who leads the policy organization Partnership on A.I. It’s a group of A.I. scientists from top technology companies; it recently signed on Chinese search giant Baidu as a member. And I’ll moderate a panel of Chinese for-profit education executives, notably VIPKid CEO Cindy Mi. My session with two veteran investors, Hugo Shong of IDG Capital and Silicon Valley’s Jim Breyer, will conclude the conference.
If the subject of China interests you nearly as much as it interests me, I strongly recommend the monumental package The New York Times recently published, “China Rules.” (This link is for the introductory essay; be sure to click through to all the articles.) With meticulous reporting from its talented and experienced staff, The Times carefully explains and analyzes the methods behind China’s economic miracle—all while defying Western predictions its Communist Party would need to usher in democracy in order to thrive economically.
These aren’t necessarily the happiest of times to be examining China through U.S. eyes. But they couldn’t be more interesting.
We'll show you: The U.K. Parliament invoked a rare legal privilege to seize confidential documents from the CEO of a software company tied to Facebook. The move, which could shed new light on Facebook's work with third party data providers, comes after Mark Zuckerberg snubbed a 7-country request to testify before lawmakers.
A.I. for good: A one year pilot project between driving app Waze and the state of Nevada reduced accidents by 17% on the busy I-15 outside Las Vegas. The project used A.I. to predict where accidents were likely to occur, allowing authorities to take preventative measures.
Nanny state: A company called Predictim is using A.I. to parse babysitters' social media accounts, creating numerical assessments for risk factors like drug abuse or "being disrespectful." Critics warn the system is arbitrary and dystopian.
"Lean in" lady loses luster: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was the subject of two New York Times editorial pieces this weekend, neither of them flattering. Opinion columnist Jennifer Senior says Facebook's recent travails expose Sandberg as a false icon of feminism, while tech maven Kara Swisher calls her out for bad decisions—but also asks why she is under more fire than her male boss.
Apple at the Supreme Court: Does Apple's 30% commission for app store purchases amount to an antitrust violation? SCOTUS will be exploring the question on Monday morning in a case brought by consumers that could force the iPhone maker to pay millions in damages.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
What's in a voice? As more and more security decisions are driven by A.I.-powered algorithms, one company has found a niche selling technology that purports to detect deception in people's speech. The firm, AC Global Risk, claims it can use vocal ticks to identify dishonest employees or asylum seekers. But critics say the tools are unreliable and amount to a new form of physiognomy, the now-discarded junk science that measured skulls to identify criminal behavior:
“The company also did not respond to a list of detailed questions about how the technology works. In public appearances, however, Martin has claimed that the company’s proprietary analytical processes can determine someone’s risk level with greater than 97% accuracy. (AVATAR, meanwhile, claims an accuracy rate of between 60 and 70%.) Several leading audiovisual experts who reviewed AC Global Risk’s publicly available materials for The Intercept used the word “bullshit” or “bogus” to describe the company’s claims. “From an ethical point of view, it’s very dubious and shady to give the impression that recognizing deception from only the voice can be done with any accuracy,” said Björn Schuller, a professor at the University of Augsburg."
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BEFORE YOU GO
Want to work off those Thanksgiving pounds? Alas, you'll need much more than a standing desk. It turns out those desks, which have soared in popularity and become a source of smugness for many office denizens, don't do much. "Their benefits have been grossly oversold" as standing doesn't count as exercise.