In recent years, scientific and technological innovation in the People’s Republic of China has made great progress and the country’s strength has continued to increase. It is worth noting, however, that the internal and external environment of China’s scientific and technological innovation development has also undergone profound changes and timely adjustments need to be made in terms of objectivity, strategies and task structure. These include strengthening basic research, which is an extremely important aspect as a support for high-level technological self-sufficiency.
As an indicator for assessing the innovation ability of various economies and for making various States’ governments take economic decisions, the Global Innovation Index (GII) published on September 20 is used as a point of reference: an annual ranking of countries based on their abilities and success in innovation. The index is published by Cornell University (Ithaca, New York State), the Institut européen d’administration des affaires (Fontainebleau, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, San Francisco) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (UN specialised agency), in collaboration with other organisations and institutions,
China has continued the progress made last year, rising from the 14th place in 2020 to the 12th in the world, and remains the only middle-income economy in the top 30. Since 2013, China’s GII ranking has risen steadily for nine consecutive years.
Furthermore, in the global “best technologies” ranking, China has 19 leading technology groups worldwide, including Shenzhen-Hong Kong-Guangzhou and Beijing, ranking second and third respectively. The rankings of Beijing (No. 3), Shanghai (No. 8), Nanjing (No. 18), Hangzhou (No. 21) and Wuhan (No. 25) have all risen compared to the global technology city group.
The GII is based on a collection of 81 international public and private sector indicators. The GII 2021 is calculated based on the average of the two sub-indices of innovation input and output, including institutions, human capital and research, infrastructure, and market maturity.
There are different aspects of business maturity, knowledge and technological and creative output.
The report shows that with Covid-19 causing numerous casualties and economic losses, governments and companies in many parts of the world have increased their investment in innovation, thus demonstrating that people are increasingly aware that new ideas are essential to overcome the epidemic and ensure a subsequent era of economic growth.
In 2020, scientific output, R&D expenditure, intellectual property applications and venture capital transactions continued to grow based on the strong previous performance. It is worth noting that, compared to previous recessions, R&D expenditure showed greater resilience during the epidemic-related economic downturn.
From the GII data regarding China, for the three-year period 2019-2021, it can be seen that this year China’s innovation output is better than its input. This year China’s innovation investment is ranked 25th, higher than in 2020 and 2019, and it ranks 7th in terms of innovation output.
In terms of sub-indexes, from the perspective of innovation input, China’s trade, competition, market size and researchers as a whole are among the main categories of indicators in the position of world leader among mathematical sciences; promotion of training companies; diversification of national industry; average spending of research and development companies; average score of the top three universities; development of industry groups; total capital formation as a percentage of GDP; corporate financing, etc.
From the perspective of innovation output, China’s advantages are concentrated in intangible resources, as well as knowledge creation and influence. They include applications for national patents and trademarks and the export share of products in total trade and other sub-indices, which have achieved global leadership.
In 2021, the broad index of knowledge dissemination has made significant progress. The segmented index of the share of IP income in total trade, in particular, shows that China is gradually turning from a major external IP introduction country to a major internal IP creation country.
During the yearly Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2021, Liu Hua, Director of the WIPO’s China Office, said in an exclusive interview with China Business News that, already according to the GII 2020, a number of Asian economies – particularly China, India, the Philippines and Vietnam – have made significant progress in innovation rankings year after year, and the main areas of innovation have gradually shifted to the East, which shows the vitality of the Asian innovation ecosystem.
According to Liu Hua, China has grown quickly in intellectual property protection and is paying ever more attention to it. He said that the 14th Five-Year Plan 2021-2015 mentioned the implementation of the country’s strategy of strengthening intellectual property rights.
For example, among the twenty main indicators of economic and social development, three are related to innovation and creation and intellectual property rights. WIPO appreciates China’s achievements in protecting intellectual property rights and is very optimistic about China’s prospects for implementing the strategy of strengthening the country with intellectual property rights.
Zhang Mizhi of the Shanghai Institute of Science said that China took the lead in achieving technological innovation and economic recovery during the Covin-19 period and has seized the opportunity for innovation and development in the post-epidemic era.
From the perspective of specific indicators, the overall increase in the first-level indicator of knowledge and technology production has increased from 55.1 in 2020 to 58.5 in 2021. Among them, the export share of high-tech products has jumped directly to the first place in the world.
Moreover, in terms of market, maturity and fast development of infrastructure construction, China is gaining an advantage in construction and economic development compared to Europe and the United States, which are still affected by the epidemic.
Behind the increase in the innovation index there is the building of scientific and technological policies and innovation systems.
In the period of the 14th Five-Year Plan 2021-2025, scientific and technological innovation has been placed in an extremely important position. According to the Plan, China will formulate and implement a ten-year action project for basic research, focusing on the deployment of a number of research centres. The proportion of basic research funding to R&D funding has been increased to over 8%.
Recently, the 30th Session of the Standing Committee of the 13th National People’s Congress has reviewed the Law on the Advancement of Science and Technology.
The revision of the Law on the Advancement of Science and Technology emphasises the strengthening of national strategic scientific and technological forces and promotes basic technological research. The project clarifies the establishment and strengthening of a strategic science and technology force with national laboratories, science and technology R&D institutes, high-level research universities and major enterprises as key components.
By perfecting key basic technologies under the conditions of a socialist market economy and a new type of national system, it is possible to organise and implement relevant scientific and technological tasks that reflect the Chinese strategic needs.
Chen Qiang, a Professor at the School of Economics and Management at Shanghai Tongji University and Executive Director of the Shanghai Industrial Innovation Ecosystem Research Center, said to China Business News that China’s technological and scientific innovation has continued to increase in recent years. However, it is worth noting that the internal and external environment for the development of scientific and technological innovation has also undergone profound changes, and that timely adjustments will be made in terms of goals, strategy, structure and task allocation. Among these, the strengthening of basic research is an extremely important aspect for high-level technological self-sufficiency, so as not to depend on the other countries.
Speaking about this year’s GII, WIPO’s Director-General, Singaporean Daren Tang, said: “This year’s GII showed us that despite the huge impact of Covid-19 on lives and livelihood, many sectors have shown extraordinary resilience, especially those focusing on the digital sector, as well as on technology and innovation.
During the heavy and oppressive epidemic phase, China’s digital economy developed rapidly and many new formats and models emerged.
The Beijing Bureau of Statistics outlines that output and investment in China’s high-tech industry have grown rapidly. From January to August 2021, the added value of high-tech production increased by a 13.1% average over two years and related investment increased by a 17% average over two years, both maintaining steady growth. Furthermore, the development of modern service industries, such as information, is relatively good.
At a press conference held by the State Council Information Office a few days ago, Xiao Yaqing, Minister of Industry and Information Technology, answered questions about the digital economy and said that it is developing very rapidly. It is doing so in terms of building new infrastructure, such as the world’s largest 4G fibre-optic network. At the end of August, there were almost 420 million 5G terminal connections.
In terms of development of the electronic information and communications industry, as of last year, the operating profit of the electronic information production industry went above forecasts, reaching 12.1 trillion yuan. It is also worth mentioning that the software corporate income reached 8.2 trillion yuan, and the income of telecommunication companies rose to 1.4 trillion yuan, with a year-on-year ratio of 1.72, 3.27 and 1.26 times that of 2012.
Xiao Yaqing said that in terms of digital, networked and smart industry, at the end of June the rate of numerical control of key processes in manufacturing industry and the penetration rate of digital R&D design tools reached 53.7% and 73.7%, respectively, up by 29.1 and 24.9 times compared to 2012.
The percentage points and the domestic market satisfaction rate of smart production equipment exceed 50%. At present, the development momentum of the digital economy is still very strong, and new business forms and models are constantly emerging, which will surely provide strong support for the development of the manufacturing industry.
The latest report by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology also shows that the global digital economy will reach 32.6 trillion US dollars in 2020.
The US digital economy continues to rank first in the world, with a scale of 13.6 trillion US dollars, but China ranks second with 5.4 trillion US dollars.
Digital Child’s Play: protecting children from the impacts of AI
Artificial intelligence has been used in products targeting children for several years, but legislation protecting them from the potential impacts of the technology is still in its infancy. Ahead of a global forum on AI for children, UN News spoke to two UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) experts about the need for improved policy protection.
Children are already interacting with AI technologies in many different ways: they are embedded in toys, virtual assistants, video games, and adaptive learning software. Their impact on children’s lives is profound, yet UNICEF found that, when it comes to AI policies and practices, children’s rights are an afterthought, at best.
In response, the UN children’s agency has developed draft Policy Guidance on AI for Children to promote children’s rights, and raise awareness of how AI systems can uphold or undermine these rights.
Conor Lennon from UN News asked Jasmina Byrne, Policy Chief at the UNICEF Global Insights team, and Steven Vosloo, a UNICEF data, research and policy specialist, about the importance of putting children at the centre of AI-related policies.
AI Technology will fundamentally change society.
Steven Vosloo At UNICEF we saw that AI was a very hot topic, and something that would fundamentally change society and the economy, particularly for the coming generations. But when we looked at national AI strategies, and corporate policies and guidelines, we realized that not enough attention was being paid to children, and to how AI impacts them.
So, we began an extensive consultation process, speaking to experts around the world, and almost 250 children, in five countries. That process led to our draft guidance document and, after we released it, we invited governments, organizations and companies to pilot it. We’re developing case studies around the guidance, so that we can share the lessons learned.
Jasmina Byrne AI has been in development for many decades. It is neither harmful nor benevolent on its own. It’s the application of these technologies that makes them either beneficial or harmful.
There are many positive applications of AI that can be used in in education for personalized learning. It can be used in healthcare, language simulation and processing, and it is being used to support children with disabilities.
And we use it at UNICEF. For example, it helps us to predict the spread of disease, and improve poverty estimations. But there are also many risks that are associated with the use of AI technologies.
Children interact with digital technologies all the time, but they’re not aware, and many adults are not aware, that many of the toys or platforms they use are powered by artificial intelligence. That’s why we felt that there has to be a special consideration given to children and because of their special vulnerabilities.
Privacy and the profit motive
Steven Vosloo The AI could be using natural language processing to understand words and instructions, and so it’s collecting a lot of data from that child, including intimate conversations, and that data is being stored in the cloud, often on commercial servers. So, there are privacy concerns.
We also know of instances where these types of toys were hacked, and they were banned in Germany, because they were considered to be safe enough.
Around a third of all online users are children. We often find that younger children are using social media platforms or video sharing platforms that weren’t designed with them in mind.
They are often designed for maximum engagement, and are built on a certain level of profiling based on data sets that may not represent children.
Predictive analytics and profiling are particularly relevant when dealing with children: AI may profile children in a way that puts them in a certain bucket, and this may determine what kind of educational opportunities they have in the future, or what benefits parents can access for children. So, the AI is not just impacting them today, but it could set their whole life course on a different direction.
Jasmina Byrne Last year this was big news in the UK. The Government used an algorithm to predict the final grades of high schoolers. And because the data that was input in the algorithms was skewed towards children from private schools, their results were really appalling, and they really discriminated against a lot of children who were from minority communities. So, they had to abandon that system.
That’s just one example of how, if algorithms are based on data that is biased, it can actually have a really negative consequences for children.
‘It’s a digital life now’
Steven Vosloo We really hope that our recommendations will filter down to the people who are actually writing the code. The policy guidance has been aimed at a broad audience, from the governments and policymakers who are increasingly setting strategies and beginning to think about regulating AI, and the private sector that it often develops these AI systems.
We do see competing interests: the decisions around AI systems often have to balance a profit incentive versus an ethical one. What we advocate for is a commitment to responsible AI that comes from the top: not just at the level of the data scientist or software developer, from top management and senior government ministers.
Jasmina Byrne The data footprint that children leave by using digital technology is commercialized and used by third parties for their own profit and for their own gain. They’re often targeted by ads that are not really appropriate for them. This is something that we’ve been really closely following and monitoring.
However, I would say that there is now more political appetite to address these issues, and we are working to put get them on the agenda of policymakers.
Governments need to think and puts children at the centre of all their policy-making around frontier digital technologies. If we don’t think about them and their needs. Then we are really missing great opportunities.
Steven Vosloo The Scottish Government released their AI strategy in March and they officially adopted the UNICEF policy guidance on AI for children. And part of that was because the government as a whole has adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child into law. Children’s lives are not really online or offline anymore. And it’s a digital life now.
How digital technology and innovation can help protect the planet
As a thick haze descended over New Delhi last month, air quality monitors across the Indian capital began to paint a grim picture.
The smoke, fed by the seasonal burning of crops in northern India, was causing levels of the toxic particle PM 2.5 to spike, a trend residents could track in real time on the Global Environment Monitoring System for Air (GEMS Air) website.
By early November, GEMS Air showed that concentrations of PM 2.5 outside New Delhi’s iconic India Gate were ‘hazardous’ to human health. In an industrial area north of the Indian capital, the air was 50 times more polluted.
GEMS Air is one of several new digital tools used by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to track the state of the environment in real time at the global, national and local levels. In the years to come, a digital ecosystem of data platforms will be crucial to helping the world understand and combat a host of environmental hazards, from air pollution to methane emissions, say experts.
“Various private and public sector actors are harnessing data and digital technologies to accelerate global environmental action and fundamentally disrupt business as usual,” says David Jensen, the coordinator of UNEP’s digital transformation task force.
“These partnerships warrant the attention of the international community as they can contribute to systemic change at an unprecedented speed and scale.”
The world is facing what United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called a triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss. Experts say averting those catastrophes and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals will require fundamentally transforming the global economy within a decade. It’s a task that would normally take generations. But a range of data and digital technologies are sweeping the planet with the potential to promote major structural transformations that will enhance environmental sustainability, climate action, nature protection and pollution prevention.
A new age
UNEP is contributing to that charge through a new programme on Digital Transformation and by co-championing the Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability as part of the Secretary-General’s Digital Cooperation Roadmap.
UNEP studies show that for 68 per cent of the environment-related Sustainable Development Goal indicators, there is not enough data to assess progress. The digital initiatives leverage technology to halt the decline of the planet and accelerate sustainable finance, products, services, and lifestyles.
GEMS air was among the first of those programmes. Run by UNEP and Swiss technology company IQAir, it is the largest air pollution network in the world, covering some 5,000 cities. In 2020, over 50 million users accessed the platform and its data is being streamed into digital billboards to alert people about air quality risks in real time. In the future, the program aims to extend this capability directly into mobile phone health applications.
Building on lessons learned from GEMS Air, UNEP has developed three other lighthouse digital platforms to showcase the power of data and digital technologies, including cloud computing, earth observation and artificial intelligence.
One is the Freshwater Ecosystem Explorer, which provides a detailed look at the state of lakes and rivers in every country on Earth.
The fruit of a partnership between UNEP, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and Google Earth Engine, it provides free and open data on permanent and seasonal surface waters, reservoirs, wetlands and mangroves.
“It is presented in a policy-friendly way so that citizens and governments can easily assess what is actually happening to the world’s freshwater resources,” says Stuart Crane, a UNEP freshwater expert. “That helps countries track their progress towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal Target 6.6.”
Data can be visualized using geospatial maps with accompanying informational graphics and downloaded at national, sub-national and river basin scales. Data are updated annually and depict long-term trends as well as annual and monthly records on freshwater coverage.
Combating climate change
UNEP is also using data-driven decision making to drive deep reductions in methane emissions through the International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO). Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, responsible for at least a quarter of today’s global warming.
The observatory is designed to shine a light on the origins of methane emissions by collecting data from various sources, including satellites, ground-based sensors, corporate reporting and scientific studies.
The Global Methane Assessment published by UNEP and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) found that cutting human-caused methane by 45 per cent this decade would avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by the 2040s, and help prevent 255,000 premature deaths, 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits, and 26 million tonnes of crop losses globally.
“The International Methane Emissions Observatory supports partners and institutions working on methane emissions reduction to scale-up action to the levels needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” says Manfredi Caltagirone, a UNEP methane emissions expert.
Through the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0, the methane observatory works with petroleum companies to improve the accuracy and transparency of methane emissions reporting. Current member companies report assets covering over 30 per cent of oil and gas production globally. It also works with the scientific community to fund studies that provide robust, publicly available data.
UNEP is also backing the United Nations Biodiversity Lab 2.0, a free, open-source platform that features data and more than 400 maps highlighting the extent of nature, the effects of climate change, and the scale of human development. Such spatial data help decision-makers put nature at the heart of sustainable development by allowing them to visualize the natural systems that hold back natural disasters, store planet-warming gasses, like carbon dioxide, and provide food and water to billions.
More than 61 countries have accessed data on the UN Biodiversity Lab as part of their national reporting to the Convention on Biological Diversity, an international accord designed to safeguard wildlife and nature. Version 2.0 of the lab was launched in October 2021 as a partnership between UNDP, UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the Convention on Biodiversity Secretariat and Impact Observatory.
All of UNEP’s digital platforms are being federated into UNEP’s World Environment Situation Room, a digital ecosystem of data and analytics allowing users to monitor progress against key environmental Sustainable Development Goals and multi-lateral agreements at the global, regional and national levels.
“The technical ability to measure global environmental change—almost in real time—is essential for effective decision making,” says Jensen.
“It will have game-changing implications if this data can be streamed into the algorithms and platforms of the digital economy, where it can prompt users to make the personal changes so necessary to preserving the natural world and achieving net zero.”
Housing needs, the Internet and cyberspace at the forefront in the UK and Italy
Modern construction methods and smart technology can revolutionise the building process and the way we live.
Population growth and demographic changes have led to a global housing shortage. According to research carried out by the Heriot-Watt University National Housing Federation and by the Homeless Charity Crisis Organisation, the UK will face a shortage of four million housing units by the end of 2031. This means that approximately 340,000 new housing units will need to be built each year. The houses built shall meet the demands of home automation and increasing environmental constraints.
Traditional building technology is unlikely to meet this demand. It is relatively expensive and too slow in fulfilling the necessary procedures and complying with all rules and regulations. Furthermore, the quality and capabilities of traditional construction methods are also limited. The only solution is modular production based on the principles of factory automation. This solution uses cordless and battery-free controls and sensors to perfectly integrate with home automation.
Modular buildings are based on a combination of construction methods called Modern Method of Construction (MMC). They include the use of panelling systems and components, such as roof and floor boxes, precast concrete foundation components, prefabricated wiring, mechanical engineering composites and innovative technologies.
With the opening of several factories, the UK has started to use the MMC to build prefabricated and fully equipped houses in modular form, which can be loaded onto trucks for transport across the country. This type of on-site assembly enables the house to be completed in days rather than months, thus reducing costs significantly. Modular buildings have become popular in Europe. In Italy, a pioneering company is the RI Group of Trepuzzi (Lecce), which is also operating in the fields of logistics and services and building health care facilities, field hospitals and public offices, which are cost-effective and quick to construct.
The impact of modular construction is expected to be significant and factories producing up to five thousand houses per year could become the best builders in the sector.
The construction standards of these new technology houses are higher than those of traditional houses. Thanks to better insulation, the electricity bill could be only half that of a traditional house.
Modular houses have kitchens and bathrooms, and are equipped with power and lighting via power cables, which are also modular, and wireless controls, in addition to the increasingly important network and telecommunications infrastructure.
Structural and modular wiring are derived from commercial electrical and industrial installations to ensure efficient and minimal electrical installation work. As technology changes, this standard installation is adaptable and offers a high degree of flexibility.
Experience in industrial and commercial construction shows that traditional fixtures are labour-intensive, rather rigid and still expensive. In contrast, on-site prefabricated modular cabling and the IDC system combined with wireless controllers and sensors can be fully installed at low cost. These are proven technologies and are moving from commercial to domestic use scenarios.
With the help of CAD support for modular cabling, all power cables are laid in the ceiling or wall space. The installation of wireless energy harvesting equipment simplifies the installation process as no switches and duct installation are required. For the first electrical fixing through the wall, the cable takes less time because there is no need to coordinate the position of the switch with the wall bolts. The level of dependency of on-site installation activities has also been reduced. Sensors, switches and wireless energy harvesting controls can be installed anywhere in the building, even in hard-to-reach areas.
After installation, the principle of energy harvesting will be used. Switches and sensors are powered by the surrounding environment and there is no need to replace old batteries and other maintenance equipment. Moreover, this flexibility and this reliability enable the system to be expanded at any time.
The modular construction technology enables it to adapt to various types of houses and meet the needs of today’s life through flexible shapes and various exterior decorations. This is not exactly the same as the old prefabricated houses, “granted” in Italy to earthquake victims who have been waiting for years for a decent, civilised home.
By providing a range of traditional and modern exterior decorative panels, the roofline can also be customised to suit local customs and architecture.
Through the combination of innovative product technology and good design, the aim of the smart home is to provide security and comfort. The usual requirement is to place the light switch and dimmer (or potentiometer) in the most convenient place. Driven by the kinetic energy collected by the switch itself, they can be placed anywhere.
They do not require wiring, but can send wireless signals to the receiver inside or near lights or DIN-rail mounts (German Institute for Standardisation). In addition, there is no need to use batteries and no need to replace them. This saves all the inconvenience and environmental risks that can be caused by replacing batteries.
Since this type of equipment has reached a wide range of applications, lighting and home entertainment will choose battery-free products. Besides controlling brightness and colour, self-powered switches can also be used to control sound systems or blinds. A key application of the smart home is the switch that can turn off/on devices that do not use traditional electricity when leaving or coming back home.
Energy harvesting technology also supports other sensor-based applications. For example, self-powered sensors can be wirelessly connected to an intruder alarm. Furthermore, by installing light-activated touch sensors on windows, lighting and heating can be turned off when no one is at home.
Another source of energy is the temperature difference between the heating radiator and the surrounding environment. For example, this energy harvesting enables a self-powered heating valve to perform heating control via a room temperature controller according to specific conditions.
From factories to offices, from multifunctional buildings to smart homes, wireless energy harvesting technology has been tested in approximately one million buildings worldwide. Most sensors, switches and other self-powered energy-harvesting devices can communicate at a distance of up to 30 metres in a building and meet the EnOcean international wireless standard, which encrypts messages below 1 GHz by sending a short message.
There are also some self-powered devices that integrate EnOcean energy harvesting technology and can communicate directly with the lights via the well-known Bluetooth or Zigbee (wireless communication standard based on the IEEE 802.15.4 specification, maintained by the ZigBee Alliance). This makes it possible to use green, battery-free switches and solar sensors to flexibly control other applications, such as LED lights or speakers.
Now that wireless sensors for energy harvesting can frame data at home, it will be a huge step forward to aggregate information and perform useful analysis. They process data through the Internet of Things (IoT), which refers to the path in technological development whereby, through the Internet, potentially every object of everyday life can acquire its own identity in cyberspace. As mentioned above, the IoT is based on the idea of “smart” items which are interconnected to exchange the information they possess, collect and/or process.
It also uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to keep track of living patterns and activities in modular homes. Energy analysis is an application that can currently help homeowners further reduce energy consumption through AI.
Looking to the future, the combination of the IoT and AI will bring many benefits. Geographical data, weather and climate information, as well as activities, water and energy consumption and other factors will be very useful for planners, building organisations, builders and landlords.
Perceived architecture represents the next generation of sustainable building systems. Smart buildings will soon be able to integrate the IoT devices on their own, as well as generate large amounts of information and use it to optimise buildings. This provides a whole new dimension to the service and to the business and home economics model.
This is particularly relevant for the ageing population, as these smart technologies can radically change the lifestyles of the elderly people and their families. They are expected to bring transformative benefits in terms of health and well-being.
The key elements of such a home include smart, non-invasive and safe and secure connections with friends, family members, general practitioners, nurses and health care professionals, involving the care of residents. Technology based on battery-free sensors connected to the IoT will help prevent accidents at home, resulting from kitchens utensils and overflowing toilets, etc., and keep up with residents’ interactions with healthcare professionals.
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