China changes lanes
Now, they speak of “changing lanes.” “It is very hard to pass on a curve,” Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba, said. “You may flip over nine out of 10 times. Rather than following the path others are taking, we need to change lanes and dash.”
China is the country closest to realizing a “cashless society.” In major cities, residents — especially youngsters — rarely take out their wallets. Instead, they use apps on mobile phones to scan QR codes. Recently, I paid cash at a bookstore in downtown Beijing during lunch, and the clerk said I was the first person to use cash that day.
I am a forgetful person, but leaving my wallet at home has not caused trouble at all. Instead, I constantly check the battery on my phone. Mobile payment became so successful in China because it chose a different path from the developed world, where credit cards are widely used.
What is the new lane China is about to take now? It is “internet plus,” which combines the internet with traditional industries. It is destined to lead to use of big data and artificial intelligence.
Big data is China’s strength as the country’s 800 million internet users offer an unbeatable pool of information. Dr. Alpha, an AI-powered diagnosis program at Zhejiang University Hospital, can analyze images by studying more than 10,000 MRI scans of rectal cancer patients. When given the MRI of a new patient, it can precisely identify the location of a tumor and diagnose whether it is malignant or benign.
Recently, Dr. Alpha and the university’s medical staff competed in an MRI reading competition, and Dr. Alpha won overwhelmingly. It took only 23 seconds to read 300 MRI scans and identify rectal cancer with 95.22 percent accuracy.
Not much attention was paid to China’s declaration of internet plus as a national strategy in 2015. But now, no one can take it for granted. This year’s Consumer Electronics Show was practically a “China Electronics Show.”
When President Moon Jae-in visited China last month, he dined at a local restaurant and paid with his mobile phone. The Blue House praised that it won the hearts of 1.3 billion Chinese people. But they did not mention the innovation in China. They may have failed to notice what they must focus on.
Not so long ago, we were concerned that Korea was caught between Japan and China. But China, which we had long considered to be behind us, is already far ahead of us.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 20, Page 26
*The author is the Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.