I recently visited the campus for Tencent, the developer of WeChat and one of China’s leading listed technology conglomerates, in Shenzhen’s Nanshan district as part of an ANZ Opportunity Asia tour. I was amazed how such a city had appeared in the region, transforming what 40 years ago was not much more than a fishing village near the border with Hong Kong into a gleaming technology hub, often referred to as the ‘Silicon Valley’ of China.
But the technology being created inside Tencent goes beyond mobile software. There is an artificial intelligence (AI) powered device playing Xiangqi (a traditional chess game) that has played more than one million humans without defeat and an augmented reality device that saves you the trouble of trying on clothes - and saves a retailer the need to hold inventory.
But what really captures the imagination is how China is using AI to tackle the challenges confronting its immense and ageing population and overcoming resource constraints such as limited health budget and diagnostics facilities within its healthcare sector while addressing the massive health burden of cancer and other diseases.
Tencent has recently been working to establish itself as a force in the health sector with some of its 40,000 employees dedicated to applying the company’s software, data, AI and other technology capabilities to healthcare problems.
The company had initially approached the healthcare sector thinking that, with a massive ageing cohort among China’s more than 1.4 billion population, the company could bring its software and data prowess – particularly the capabilities in manipulating massive data sets including unstructured data such as images - to create solutions to medical problems. The AI Medical Innovation System (AIMIS) platform is just one of the technologies Tencent has developed which demonstrates those capabilities.
AIMIS uses artificial intelligence combined with giant libraries of diagnostic medical imaging data (x-rays, MRIs, CT scans) and is being actively used in cancer research and diagnosis. It completes various scans of the human body in a real-time, non-invasive manner.
AIMIS also uses augmented reality technology to display internal organs outside the human body, a useful tool given lung cancer is the most prevalent cancer in China. Like the ubiquitous electric vehicles on the streets of the city, here was another reminder of how China is looking to address the public health impacts of its environmental problems.
(Recent pollution indicators in Shenzhen have read 120 parts per million (ppm), levels rated as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups”. An acceptable rating is around 80 ppm, Australia typically has less than 40 ppm).