Technology is rapidly changing the global economy. As Ma Huateng, the chairman and CEO of Tencent Holdings, explained at a recent intimate discussion with Cornell Tech students, we are currently experiencing what he calls the "Digital Revolution" in which the digital economy will continue to be paramount.
At the event, Ma spoke about China's economy and his company, Tencent Holdings, a Chinese Internet company that ranks as one of the country's top businesses by market capital. He was joined by Chen Liming, MS '89, the chairman of IBM Greater China Group; Yu Gang, MS '86, co-founder and chairman of New Peak Group' and Zhu Jonathan Jia Esq, JD '92, managing director of Bain Capital Asia, all of whom serve on the new Cornell China advisory board which will provide continuous strategic advice about the development of Cornell's increasing presence in China.
Here are a few highlights from the conversation:
The shift from desktop to mobile
Ma believes that all companies, and especially technology companies, will have to continuously develop technological advances or risk becoming outdated. He used Tencent and it's rival company, Alibaba, as a case study.
"We know that the penetration of technology in China is smaller than that of the world. Yet, the market capital of Tencent and Alibaba have already exceeded $400 billion which can compete with the major United States technology corporations," he said. "That's all because of the mobile Internet."
Over the past six to seven years, he's seen a shift from desktop to mobile and companies have had to adapt their technology for the technological trend. In fact, he notes that Tencent survived as a company because of the success of WeChat, their mobile messaging and payment app that reportedly has more than 900 million monthly active users.
Mobile payments and the competition between Alibaba's Alipay and Tencent's WePay led to new technological innovations and caused the market to grow at rapid speed. According to Ma, China has 50% more mobile transactions than the United States. Ma has noticed that mobile pay has scaled technological platforms that rely on the technology and increased use in "traditional industries" such as education and healthcare.
The impact of artificial intelligence
"The future of Tencent's development will focus on two terms: the first is technology and the second is culture," said Ma. "No matter how advanced technology becomes, the culture cannot be replaced."
He predicts a future in which manual work will be replaced by robots but humans will continue to be responsible for "advanced thinking and innovation."
Tencent has already started to create machine learning algorithms, but he reiterates that artificial intelligence can't replace humans. "Whatever is strategic and creative has to be done by a human. Artificial intelligence can support humans," he said.
Chen also spoke about the impact AI will have on the future of work and, especially the medical industry. He notes that AI can be used to efficiently and effectively conduct research and analyze all of the available medical data to come up with a few possible diagnoses.
The startup scene in China
China used to learn from Western businesses then adapt it for China, according to Yu. "Later we figured out how to adopt Western business models and innovate in terms of business models. We are seeing a lot of businesses with their own models, services, and technology," he said, "Today we are seeing Chinese businesses with global applications, and I would expect there would be more companies like that as we move forward."
Cornell Tech students had the opportunity to gain insights into China's current and future technological advancements and how they will impact China's economy and the global economy at large. One thing is clear: China will continue to be a leader in the "Digital Revolution."