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China is working on a data and surveillance driven “smart city”

Coming soon to the West?

China is pushing forward with plans to create a “smart city” out of Xiongan New Area, currently a development hub in the Hebei province, some 62 miles away from Beijing.

Once completed and functional, the city, which now has some 5 million inhabitants, is supposed to take on Beijing’s non essential functions, say reports. Xiongan’s claim to fame is also being the testing ground for China’s new digital identity scheme and for the country’s digital yuan, the central bank’s upcoming “cryptocurrency.”

Meanwhile the latest addition to the smart city project, endorsed by President Xi Jinping, is JD Digits, a Beijing-based unicorn that deals in AI, digital marketing, and smart city technology. The company is joining Chinese giants like Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu who are working towards the same goal.

Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post says JD Digits, an arm of e-commerce heavyweight JD.com, will be tasked with developing an operating system to power this “city of the future.”

This was revealed during a JD.com event when the company’s VP Zheng Yu, who also heads JD Digits’ data department, explained that the system will be centralizing a wealth of data from a variety of sources into one place for the purpose of making it “easier to share” but also analyze and mine.

This data will come from sets already collected by the government and from voice and video records about people’s travel and consumption habits. Zheng argued that speech and facial recognition will not be enough to make future smart cities function the way the Chinese envision them, and that in addition, data feeding AI models used in apps predicting traffic and warning about crowds gathering will also be needed.

This kind of platform will see further use in alerting the authorities of “potential emergencies” and to control population when it comes to coronavirus.

But this is not JD Digits’ only foray into China’s smart city plans, as the company is active in 20 other such projects around China.

The tech that is developing and will be used to turn these cities into a desired state of connectedness, data collection and sharing, and inevitably near-complete surveillance, includes 5G networks, big data, sensors, and supercomputers.

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