Report on China’s Big Tech Conference


Enterprise TelevisionThe fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, China featured variety of tech innovations. An artificial intelligence company touted a robot that could help doctors with diagnoses. A start-up displayed a drone designed to carry a single passenger 60 miles per hour.

And in a demonstration worthy of both wonder and worry, a Chinese facial recognition company showed how its technology could quickly identify and describe people.

If there were any doubts about China’s technological prowess, the presentations made this week at the country’s largest tech conference should put them to rest. The event, once a setting for local tech executives and leaders of impoverished states, this year attracted top American executives like Tim Cook of Apple and Sundar Pichai of Google, as well as executives of Chinese giants like Jack Ma of Alibaba and Pony Ma of Tencent.

Yet all the advancements exhibited at the event, the World Internet Conference, in the picturesque eastern Chinese city of Wuzhen, also offered reason for caution. The technology enabling a full techno-police state was on hand, giving a glimpse into how new advances in things like artificial intelligence and facial recognition can be used to track citizens — and how they have become widely accepted here.

The tracking was apparent both in the design of the event, which ended on Tuesday, and in the technology on display. Tight security checkpoints made use of facial recognition. Chinese armed police patrolled. And in the dark corners of the whitewashed walls of the convention hall, the red lights of closed-circuit cameras glowed.

A fast-growing facial recognition company, Face++, turned its technology on conference goers. On a large screen in its booth, the software identified their gender, described their hair length and color and characterized the clothes they wore.

Other Chinese companies showed what could be done with such data. A state-run telecom company, China Unicom, featured a display with graphics breaking down the huge amounts of data the company has on its subscribers.

One map broke down the population of Beijing based on the changing layout of the city’s population as people commuted to and from work. Another showed where foreign visitors roamed on its network.