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Tech the heart that beats for China’s society

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A security guard wearing protective clothing next to footage from a thermal camera at an access point to Huashan Hospital in Shanghai. AFP

Tech the heart that beats for China’s society

With creative, efficient and amazingly responsive solutions, Chinese technology giants and emerging start-ups are bringing tremendous value to the nation’s fight against the novel coronavirus.

From artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, robots, big data analysis to blockchain, companies are contributing their special skills to contain the spread of the deadly virus.

Experts said the wide application of tech innovations customised for the battle may spark off a new trend in the future evolution of China’s digital economy.

Lu Chuanying, director of the Research Centre for Global Cyberspace Governance, which is part of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said Chinese tech players are finding a way to showcase their technological prowess amid the epidemic.

He said tech companies’ remarkable speed in tweaking existing technologies for application in the virus fight and their ability to come up with practical solutions to peculiar problems reflect their desire to shoulder responsibilities toward society.

“On the one hand, tech companies have ensured people’s well-being and helped resume the functioning of society.

“On the other hand, emerging technologies are instrumental in lifting the country’s digital economy to a new high amid the epidemic.

“These technologies will now be more acceptable widely in China and recognised by the government, companies and society,” Lu said.

Amid the gloom-doom scenario, high-tech enterprises have quickly developed novel AI and 5G-enabled solutions for different virus control applications, greatly strengthening frontline workers.

They are responding to what President Xi Jinping stressed on Sunday that efforts should be made to fully unleash the huge potential and powerful driving force of China’s development and strive to achieve the goals and tasks for economic and social development this year.

Given the strain on tech-enabled infrastructure in populous big cities, AI majors such as Megvii Technology Ltd, CloudWalk Technology Co Ltd and SenseTime Group Ltd have developed fever-detection systems with non-contact inspection tools and automatic alerts.

Similarly, China’s telecom carriers stepped in by mining user insights to help local governments formulate preventive steps.

By leveraging the database of China’s 1.6 billion smartphones in use, they offer insights into traffic flows in various provinces and cities. This data helps local governments to predict the direction in which the virus may be spreading, and thus roll out targeted measures to prevent a fresh outbreak or pre-empt aggravation.

As stringent supervision of people’s large-scale movements is critical to the prevention of further spread of the novel coronavirus, China’s tech powerhouses are lending a helping hand in community management.

For instance, Tencent Holdings Ltd and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd have introduced electronic exit and entry systems for residential compounds. These allow properties’ management teams to keep a precise track of people entering and leaving the neighbourhood, including the time, frequency and their health condition.

But the biggest pressure is still on frontline medical workers who are working around the clock to treat patients.

To strengthen their hands, Yitu Technology Co and SenseTime have developed AI-based medical imaging systems that can automatically perform a quantitative analysis of the lungs and suggest therapy options.

This, in turn, allows doctors to make faster, more accurate decisions.

Drones and robots have also been pressed into service to help prevent cross-infection at crowded areas like hospital lounges, railway stations, airports and bus terminals.

Policemen use drones to issue warnings. If people gather or do not wear masks, the drones equipped with cameras can record and transmit such scenes in real time to control rooms.

Officers in the control rooms can issue gentle or severe warnings on the drones’ built-in public address system.

Robots now move around at some hospital corridors to offer medical advice, deliver drugs or meals, act like guides, conduct disinfection, measure patients’ body temperature and do other repetitive work.

This greatly reduces the burden of health workers.

Xiang Ligang, a telecom veteran and director-general of the Information Consumption Alliance, a telecom industry association, admitted that the epidemic will likely have a short-term impact on the development of some internet-based industries.

However, he said, in the long run, it can inject development momentum into China’s digital economy by promoting the digital transformation of a large number of traditional industries.

For example, industries that are directly involved in epidemic prevention, including medical care, logistics, robots and security sectors, will likely see a sustained surge in demand for 5G and AI after the epidemic, driving related technologies and industries such as cloud computing, to usher in a new era, Xiang said.

Chinese tech companies’ technological prowess, quick response, and resilience amid the epidemic appear to suggest that the novel coronavirus epidemic could prove to be a breakout point for emerging technologies, just as the 2003 Sars outbreak ignited the explosion of e-commerce in the country, he said.

CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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