Back in September, the SEED AWARD semi-finals were held in London at the RSA (Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce). Touted as the world’s first Creativity Award, the SEED AWARD’s focus is to highlight the integration of of technology and everyday life, “with the aim to reward, encourage and inspire those who have passion of life and innovative ideas, and are willing to apply the power of technology to create a better life”.
Preliminaries were held in North America and Asia-Pacific, including regional semi finals in Silicon Valley and Guangzhou, China. Finalists for the award included an early warning earthquake detector, a gene editing technology to extend the quality and longevity of a dog’s life (which will later be planned to be used on people as well), real-time traffic data to provide recommended routes for third world countries, and a system that turns pedestrian traffic into off-grid electrical energy and data.
Organised by Seedland Group, the competition included cash prizes for regional finalists as well as a grand prize of $150,000 to the overall winner. Notable judges included Dov Moran (inventor of the USB flash drive) Elliott ng (Area 120, Google) and Erik Frank (Uber AI Labs) to name but a few.
Why does this matter you may ask? It matters because it shows a direction of travel.
You see, the organiser, Seedland Group, isn’t a firm out of the UK or Europe or event North America for that matter. Instead, Seedland Group is a Chinese firm based in Guangzhou and that matters because for so long the West has considered itself to be at the forefront of all technological development, yet those winds are now shifting.Embed from Getty Images
A parallel universe of technological advancement
Chinese companies and Chinese tech have lived in a sort of bubble for the past few decades. With it’s huge internal market and (let’s be honest here) a general attitude in the west that we are somehow superior (both in terms of tech and culture), has meant that the tech innovations taking place in China have for a long time done so completely separately from what we have in the west.
Sure, China has long been considered the “world’s factory” but up until the last few years, little has been said about the technological innovation taking place there and how it will likely be China leading the tech world into the 21st Century.
Take WeChat as an example. It has taken social media to an entirely new level when compared to its western counterparts. In fact calling it a social media platform to begin with doesn’t even make sense from the way we understand social media.
Its focus on the phygital experience means it is more akin to a Fintech at this point, offering everything from instant chat, to payments, appointments and more. It is deeply integrated in everyday life to the point you can do everything from chat to pay a friend to book a doctors appointment or order food and much more in between.
Tech firms in the west are years behind WeChat and projects like Facebook’s cryptocurrency Libra are not signs of innovation, they are signs of trying to play catch up.
5G is another area where Chinese firms are simply dominating.
The tech firm Huawei was in the news a lot before the current crisis and Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced his first commons backbench rebellion over allowing the firm to build part of the UK’s nextgen 5G network.
However, little was said about the fact that Huawei’s tech is far superior to western alternatives and delivered at a much lower price. This isn’t a case of State sponsored firms unfairly undercutting the likes of Nokia and Ericsson, this is China doing it better than us.Embed from Getty Images
How China’s leading the way right now and why you should care
With the recent developments in Europe and North America surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, governments around the world are now looking to the Chinese for leadership guidance and assistance. Not only do Chinese authorities seem to be fighting back and almost halting the spread of the deadly Coronavirus but they are actively trying to assist other countries in dealing with their own outbreaks.
In Italy, health authorities have relied on China for expertise in dealing with both the outbreak and treatments for those infected. Chinese authorities are also assisting with medical supplies to help the country cope with the biggest outbreak outside of China.
The EU on the other hand seem to have left Italy to its own devices when it should be throwing it’s full support behind them. America, meanwhile, has failed to show any leadership whatsoever. Many political pundits have claimed that the world may never be the same again but I wonder how many of them considered that a shift in geo-political influence will come from a lack of leadership on the part of the leader of the world?
Artificial Intelligence and Health
Much has been touted about what an AI powered future might look like. However, in light of current events it seems Artificial Intelligence may become a key tool in how we manage and contain the current Covid-19 outbreak.
In the US, Microsoft Research, the National Library of Medicine, and the Allen Institute for AI (Ai2) have announced an initiative to gather some 29,000 research papers relating to both the new virus and the wider coronavirus family. An effort to process the information so AI algorithms can read and understand the underlying data. It is hoped the findings will help develop treatments and maybe even help with a cure.
In contrast, the Chinese have offered doctors anywhere in the world use of its supercomputer, powering an AI diagnostic tool for early identification of Covid-19 patients based on a chest scan. This isn’t an initiative, this is a tool which exists, works and most importantly is being used as we speak.
The system even has an English interface and the reports it produces directs doctors to the areas of a patient’s lungs that require special attention.Embed from Getty Images
China’s “soft power”, is it just an image problem?
China’s goal to win over “heart and minds” in recent years has seen it transform developing countries. Its Belt and Road Initiative has transformed African economies who have long suffered from underfunding, war, famine and corruption.
In the west however, we seem far more preoccupied with what China is doing wrong. Whether it is freedom of speech, mistreatment of Muslim ethnic minorities or tit for tat diplomatic retaliations over trade, it’s rare that we are presented with what China is doing on the international stage in a good light.
So what is it, are we simply shocked and appalled at the detention centres in Xinjiang’s ? If that’s the case, why are we not also shocked and appalled at our own conduct in the middle east? Are we really saying people in detention centres is worse than 2 decades of war and an entire region destabilized?
This is not to say that one bad action cancels the other, it’s more to say we shouldn’t be throwing stones in glass houses.
We snigger at the Belt and Road initiative and claim it is nothing more then Chinese overloading developing countries with crippling debt but in the same breath we seem to forget about our own ill gotten gains. How we have pursued a policy of squeezing smaller nations for their resources and have offered little back except for aid. The Chinese on the other hand are not only teaching a man how to fish, they are also providing the fishing pole.
We claim to champion freedom of speech but cases like the Wikileaks scandal show us that when it is in their interest, our own governments have no problem in stifling it. How is this any different from accusing the Chinese authorities of doing the same?
Do China’s shortcomings really make up for how we belittle Chinese culture and Chinese people? Is it ok to seed hysteria about not eating chinese food because of a viral outbreak? Would we act the same way towards any other culture?
Maybe it’s time we put the Sinophobia to the side and really take another look at what it means to be inclusive. While we do so, let’s give a nod to companies like Seedland for bridging the divide. If anything, we need more of it.
About Seedland Group:
Founded in Guangzhou in 2006, SEEDLAND has expanded its business from real estate to diverse areas. In the last 13 years, it has been dedicating to the improvement of people’s life through innovative technologies, redefining the relationship between people and the living space by integrating technology with human culture. As a result, it has grown into a comprehensive company providing whole lifecycle smart life solutions.