Today, scientific and technological revolutions and industrial changes are on the rise all over the world. The EU has launched a "data-driven economy" strategy to seize opportunities of big data development. China has also made a strategic decision to build a digital China. "Innovation integrates security, intelligence leads the future" is the theme of China-EU digital technology cooperation.
China has made significant achievements in its digital construction. According to the Digital China Construction and Development Report (2017) issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country's digital economy reached 27.2 trillion yuan in 2017, growing 20.3 percent year-on-year, accounting for 32.9 percent of its GDP, and ranked second globally.
The new generation of information technologies represented by AI, robotics, 5G mobile communication, internet of things (IoT), and blockchain have accelerated the breakthroughs in applications to become the core driving forces of digital technology in China. In 2017, China rose to No 22 in the Global Innovation Index jointly released by the World Intellectual Property Organization, Cornell University and INSEAD, becoming the only middle-income country to enter the top 25 list. However, there is an acute shortage of talents and high-skilled personnel. Europe is among the leaders in digital technology innovation. For instance, in terms of AI, Europe is recognized as home to prestigious world-class universities and research centers, with at least nine ranked among the top 25.
In March this year, the European Political Strategy Center, European Commission's in-house think tank, released a report titled "The Age of Artificial Intelligence: Towards a European Strategy for Human-centric Machines" which analyzed the current challenges facing Europe. In 2017, only 4 percent of global data was stored in the EU and only 25 percent of large companies and 10 percent of the small and medium-sized enterprises use big data analysis. In most EU member countries, data scientists make up less than 1 percent of total employment. In contrast, China has become one of the largest and most diverse data source countries, having accumulated a wealth of data resources. The number of Chinese internet users exceeds 800 million, mobile phone users exceed 1.3 billion, ranking first in the world. In 2017, the monthly mobile internet access traffic per capita reached 1775MB on average, which provides a fertile source for global research.
In the digital technology revolution, China and the EU are facing many common and different challenges, which have huge potential for cooperation. For example, China has proposed the "Internet Plus", aiming to construct a public service supportive platform and promote the integration of the Internet and manufacturing industries.
With the 5G era approaching, the prospects of the IoT are refreshed once again, becoming an important scenario of 5G applications. According to IDC data, by 2020, the global market for IoT will reach $1.7 trillion and grow at an annual compounded rate of 16.9 percent. Under this trend, China's IoT industry will grow to exceed 1.5 trillion yuan by the end of its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20). In 2019, China's cloud computing industry will be 430 billion yuan ($62.02 billion) in scale.
China also aims to enhance international cooperation in the digital economy. This year, China released the new version of its AI development plan, with a focus on accelerating the integration of artificial intelligence and economic society. In March this year, the EPSC's report clearly stated that Europe should create a framework to support AI investment and set global quality standards for AI to meet internal and external challenges. China and the EU can improve the joint research mechanism through cooperation projects, and fund joint research and exchanges to jointly meet global challenges.
China puts equal emphasis on development and security. The EU has made good progress in advanced data protection technologies and issued the EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in May this year.
Taking AI and robots as an example, one of the big challenges is how to make AI available to human uses for extending thinking, memory, judging and handling things. The Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology has written relevant contents into a new plan to explore and establish international standards for what people can develop, what is bound by the ethics of science and what to refrain from.
China and Europe have carried out active cooperation in this regard. To address the core issues of robot and AI security, a robotic blockchain program named "MPC" initiated by late British scientist Stephen Hawking has been completed by more than 10 academicians and experts from China, Europe and other countries. The goal of the program is to use blockchain as the cornerstone to establish the global robot security consensus charter for efficient monitoring and management of robots for safety and security of robot uses. In its promotion for consensus, the program has got support from EU countries, especially from renowned robot companies such as KUKA, ABB, and COMAU from countries such as Germany, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland and Italy.
China understands innovation is in essence talent-driven. At present, China still has a shortage of high-level innovative talent, especially of leading scientists and technologists. Sino-European talent cooperation could be a key focus. In 2017, the Ministry of Science and Technology of China launched a guidance on promoting foreign scientists' participation in China's national science and technology plans, exploring a new model for opening-up and cooperation by gathering global innovative talents.
Europe is currently a cradle for innovation and entrepreneurship by high-end talents. China and Europe can work together to bring global innovative talents to international scientific plans and projects, promote openness, cooperation and sharing of large-scale research infrastructure and facilities, scientific data, and other resources.
China and Europe have signed the Sino-EU Science & Technology Cooperation Agreement, under which projects combining study, research and production can be carried out jointly. China and the UK also signed an MOU on science, technology and innovation cooperation in December 2017.
With globalization encountering protectionism, and multilateral trade regimes and rules facing challenges, China and Europe should release positive, clear, and strong signals on major issues such as global governance and cooperation of science and technology. China-Europe cooperation can create solid conditions and a long-term vision for a shared destiny for humankind.
The author is founder and CEO of Zorpia Robot Co, council member of Center for China & Globalization, and founder of International Robot and AI Security Federation. He contributed this article to China Watch exclusively. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of China Watch.