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As China becomes a global data superpower, it is likely to control huge quantities of a resource that will be invaluable to its future economic competitiveness. Data from foreign sources, it is assumed, can provide China an edge in developing artificial intelligence and information technologies.

Asian ‘data sphere’ gives China twice the information flows of the US as Beijing is now said to account for 23% of cross-border data flows, nearly twice the share of the US, which ranks a distant second with 12%.

Meanwhile, China’s all-encompassing five-year plan puts a heavy focus on a handful of critical frontier technologies and equipment ranging from nanometer chips to high thrust aerospace engines to vital nuclear reactor cores. More private capital is also expected to flow into the labs of two cities - Shenzhen and Shanghai. Beijing, meanwhile, is to be assigned a bigger research role with its large concentration of top universities and state labs. Hefei, the other city chosen as a national tech hub, is expected to make further headway in quantum technology and nuclear research, including achieving nuclear fusion.

On the other hand, the Biden administration is about to launch an “American Science Corps” (ASC) to elevate science as a central part of American culture. It is estimated that deployment of 7000 ASC service members for a pilot year would cost $500 million. This relatively small investment is expected to ensure a stronger workforce, and encourage greater public support for work while benefiting public health, economic justice, and national security. The ASC is also expected to counter misinformation and conspiracy theories arising from gaps in trust in science.

In a related development, digitization which is already touching every aspect of human activity will, in ten years from now, decisively affect all our businesses, our manufacturing, our financial systems and our human resource systems. And it will just be so imbued into every process, every function, every connection that we make.

As such, the success of Europe’s digital decade would require the EU to forge strong alliances and working relationships with likeminded countries, both bilaterally and multilaterally. And whether deploying digital health solutions, fighting terrorism, mitigating climate change, protecting biodiversity, or using technology to predict natural disasters and future pandemics, the EU will need much more international technological collaboration.

But tech experts say digitalization carried serious risks as well, ranging from mass surveillance and cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure to the spread of state-sponsored disinformation designed to polarize societies. This means one must strike a balance between openness and other core interests and values.

Digital agency would make data similar to other forms of personal property: a home, a bank account, or even a mobile phone number. Securing these will be hard for three reasons: Consumers don’t seem to care enough to take action on their own; there are many competing proposals for solutions, without a clear winner; and, ultimately, it is difficult to even define what constitutes personal data belonging solely to an individual.

Once a company such as Amazon or Google has amassed data on hundreds of millions of users, it can move into completely new markets and beat established firms that lack similar knowledge. For another thing, such companies benefit greatly from so-called network effects. The larger the network gets, the more useful it becomes to its users, which creates a positive feedback loop that leads a single company to dominate the market.

Unlike traditional firms, companies in the digital space do not compete for market share; they compete for the market itself. First movers can entrench themselves and make further competition impossible. They can swallow up potential rivals, as Facebook did by purchasing Instagram and WhatsApp.

Internet platforms cause political harms that are said to be far more alarming than any economic damage they create. If Murdoch were to control Facebook or Google, he could subtly alter ranking or search algorithms to shape what users see and read, potentially affecting their political views without their awareness or consent. And the platforms’ dominance makes their influence hard to escape. Now one can watch the channel one liked; under a Murdoch-controlled Facebook, one may not have a similar choice if one wants to share news stories or coordinate political activity with one’s friends.

Consider also that the platforms—Amazon, Facebook, and Google, in particular—possess information about individuals’ lives that prior monopolists never had. They know who people’s friends and family are, about people’s incomes and possessions, and many of the most intimate details of their lives. What if the executive of a platform with corrupt intentions were to exploit embarrassing information to force the hand of a public official? Alternatively, imagine a misuse of private information in conjunction with the powers of the government—say, Facebook teaming up with a politicized Justice Department.

However, a competitive layer of new companies with transparent algorithms could step in and take over the editorial gateway functions currently filled by dominant technology platforms whose algorithms are opaque. Added to current technology platforms’ services, this arrangement could allow users to choose how information is curated and filtered for them. Users would select services that would determine the importance and veracity of political content, and the platforms would use those determinations to curate what those users saw.

Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digital adoption - and companies are being transformed by the power of technology. Indeed, two years of digital transformation is said to have happened in just two months, thanks to Covid-19. From drone delivery to e-commerce and telehealth, there has been unprecedented acceleration. And there was “no way” Johnson & Johnson would have been able to create a vaccine without collaboration, knowledge sharing - and the application of digitalization and new technologies. Vaccine design was enabled by data sciences and clinical trials were a large database exercise.

In the second wave of digitalization, Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities are now in factory plants, and the ability to use computation at the edge is said to make manufacturing more efficient.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic’s unprecedented disruption, 93% of Global Lighthouse (tech advanced) Network factories are said to have achieved an increase in product output and found new revenue streams. By shifting to models that leverage greater transparency into customer needs, advanced companies are said to be implementing new use cases, such as those enabling mass customization with unprecedented speed-to-market. And, these gains are being made with little to no capital expenditure. In addition, the forerunners are discovering that growth need not come at the expense of environmental responsibility. In fact, the opposite is taking place: productivity improvements often drive resource efficiency gains and are tied to environmentally-conscious impact.

Fifteen factories have joined the World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) elite Global Lighthouse Network of manufacturers that have successfully harnessed advanced technologies to propel productivity, profits and sustainability gains. This brings the network to 69 sites that have deployed Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies - including artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), advanced analytics and automation - at scale.

Digital strategies at the Henkel Lighthouse in Spain have driven down costs whilst helping to reducing the company’s carbon footprint - CO2 have been reduced by 10%.

HP Singapore, one of the newly inducted members of the network, was able to pivot from a labour-intensive factory into a digitized, automated one with the help of AI. In doing so, it managed to improve manufacturing costs by 20 percent and productivity by 70 percent.

Similarly, China’s Tsingtao Brewery reinvented its factory processes to better meet consumer needs and a growing demand for personalized products. With the implementation of digital technologies, the 118-year-old factory was able to reduce its lead times for customized orders and the development of new products by 50 percent. Its revenues also increased by 14 percent.

On the other hand, Ericsson built a new 5G-enabled digital factory in Texas to meet the demand for 5G radios. Through the use of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology, where various devices of the manufacturing process are linked to one another via a network, Ericsson was able to increase the output of employees by 120 percent while reducing lead times by 75 percent and inventory by half.

The Lighthouses are said to be proving that unlocking smart capacity through digital technologies is more effective than spending on capital infrastructure.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021