A few days ago, I turned 31 while on a flight from Beijing to Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province, for the annual International Big Data Expo.
During the flight, I had plenty of time to reminisce about years long past, and perhaps most appropriately, the incredible technological changes I’ve witnessed during my lifetime.
During my primary school years, dial-up internet was standard, movies came on VHS cassettes, and people completed daily transactions with cash or plastic cards.
Today, of course, we enjoy lightning-fast, wireless 5G internet and video-streaming services and make everyday purchases using mobile payment platforms.
The contrast is stark, and it is remarkable how quickly we’ve come so far.
Since 2015, cutting-edge digital technology and China’s role in its development have been highlighted and celebrated at the Big Data Expo in Guiyang, a city often referred to as China’s “Big Data Valley”. The annual event explores the impact of big data on governance, education, the environment, industry and emerging sectors such as artificial intelligence, among myriad others.
The three-day event began on Wednesday and I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to attend and get an inside look at what humanity’s increasingly digital future may hold.
In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s expo is being held both online and offline, which seems to me like an appropriate nod to the omnipresent nature of the internet in modern times.
This integrated format was showcased during the opening ceremony, when Vice-Premier Liu He spoke to attendees via video link from Beijing, urging the need for excellent digitalization and a robust digital economy in the post-pandemic world.
Following the ceremony’s conclusion, I made my way through the crowds of data devotees to the expo’s main venue, the Guiyang International Conference and Exhibition Center.
Bai Xiaobo, senior marketing manager at a robotics firm, was the first person I met upon entering the center, and he was keen to introduce me to a humanoid robot that can complete basic household chores, such as watering plants.
In the not-so-distant future, Bai envisions that his firm’s mechanical marvel will be able to undertake a diverse and complex array of tasks.
“We can imagine this robot will be able to do many things, just like a real human,” said Bai. “It will be able to connect with smart home systems and TVs and lamps, and will be able to control these systems on its own.”
Next, I met Zhang Yuke, a development supervisor from Chengdu, who introduced me to one of the most incredible pieces of technology I’ve ever encountered.
Zhang and his colleagues have developed a machine that uses AI to analyze a person’s mental health based on 14 indicators. The most impressive thing about the device is that it only needs 30 seconds to scan a patient’s face to produce a prognosis.
I spent nearly six hours wandering the expo’s four pavilions, encountering booths for cloud-based agriculture-monitoring technology, AI-driven physical fitness software, intelligent transportation technology and a seemingly endless number of virtual reality displays.
As I left the expo grounds with blistered feet and a head full of wonder, familiar thoughts came rushing back to me. I found myself pondering the state of technology 30 years from now, when my young daughter will be roughly my age.
Will the world of her 30s be filled with robotic nannies, AI physiotherapists and perhaps the long-awaited hoverboard of Back to the Future II fame? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, curious minds can glimpse the future till Friday evening in Guiyang.