How Guangzhou is powering its high-tech ambitions

By Chia Jie Lin

The city is using supercomputers and an e-government cloud to make services faster and easier to use.

Self-driving vehicles whizz alongside cars and trucks on highways. Commuters receive timely weather forecast reports from an AI-powered hub, always one step ahead of sudden downpours. In hospitals, AI doctors diagnose and treat patients suffering from congenital cataracts.

These make up just some of many innovations that are now commonplace in Guangzhou today. The city is leading one of China’s most ambitious digital revolutions, powered by supercomputers and efficient government services.

Here are five ways the city is achieving its high-tech ambitions:

1. Supercomputer-powered AI

Guangzhou is using AI to improve weather forecasts, traffic, healthcare and home planning services - made possible by the immense compute power available to the city. It is home to the Tianhe-2 Supercomputer, also known as the ‘Milky Way 2’, one of the world’s fastest supercomputers, and which has massive processing capabilities that are powering citizen services.

For instance, Tianhe-2 has halved the time needed to compute weather forecasts from 114 minutes to 56 minutes, allowing citizens to efficiently anticipate sudden bouts of strong weather.

“Many high-tech enterprises have put forth lots of innovation to establish a supercomputing platform within Guangzhou,” says Du Yunfei, Chief Engineer of Guangzhou’s National Supercomputer Center, speaking at a panel during the World Cities Summit 2018.

Meanwhile, the city also collects real-time information on traffic flows and visualises it, allowing officials “to use graphic analysis to manage traffic,” Du adds. From these data, Guangzhou’s officials hope to work towards “zero deaths from traffic accidents,” says Cao Hui, Senior Engineer of Urban Planning at the Guangzhou Transport Planning Research Institute.

The city is also powering AI-led medical innovations, having launched an AI doctor that treats congenital cataracts. “At Zhongshan University, the AI robot doctor is able to conduct clinical jobs and reach a 90% accuracy in its diagnosis, which is at an expert level,” says Du.
"The AI robot doctor is able to conduct clinical jobs and reach a 90% accuracy in its diagnosis, which is at an expert level."
Over 300 patients have since undergone clinical trials with AI doctors, and in the future, the city plans to expand the reach of AI doctors from outpatient clinics to primary hospitals.

2. Digital identity

Developed by the Nansha police force, the Nansha WeChat police app allows citizens to communicate seamlessly with local police. It is also China’s first electronic social security card.

Guangzhou citizens download the app and then register their phone numbers alongside an eight-digit PIN number at official immigration counters. Citizens will then ‘scan’ their faces into the system to formalise their new digital identities.

Following this, WeChat police app users no longer need to carry ID cards with them, but instead, scan their phones at any immigration counter to enter or leave Guangzhou for cities such as Hong Kong. Citizens can also use their electronic ID cards to apply for government services, check into hotels and access other services that require formal identification. “Smart digital governance initiatives like the Nansha WeChat police app have greatly increased the efficiency of government services,” Wang says.

Since January 2018, trials of this electronic ID project have been implemented across Guangdong Province, and officials are looking to promote this system across the rest of China.

3. E-gov cloud

In the Nansha “Wisdom City” district, officials have launched an e-government cloud that incorporates over 270 government resources, across 22 public agencies, onto an integrated cloud platform for citizens to access easily. The cloud processes over 10,000 citizen requests daily.

This e-government cloud pulls many services into one place for ease, says Wang Datong, Deputy Director-General of the Administrative Committee of Guangzhou’s Nansha Development Zone. Citizens can simply approach any single government service counter, and it will be able to issue certificates for a wide range of services, ranging from business licenses and social security registrations to tax registrations.

The Nansha district has also launched the country’s first series of “one-license-and-one-code” business licenses. Printed business licenses now contain unique QR codes which, when scanned, allows business owners to access their businesses’ information on the e-government cloud.

4. Smart homes

Guangzhou’s smart home initiative also allows potential homeowners to render and design their future homes on China’s first-ever online 3D cloud design platform. The platform provides citizens with a 720-degree virtual reality experience of their future homes, and they can fully design these homes within 10 minutes.

“Now, three minutes is all you need to see your future home. This can then allow you to create a better living space,” Du reveals. To date, over 15 million virtual homes have been designed on the platform.

5. Building infrastructure

The city is enabling ambitious innovation projects to take off without a hitch, and at a fraction of the usual time needed. According to Wu Shangwei, Deputy Director-General of Guangzhou’s Municipal Commission of Commerce, large-scale infrastructure projects that often take years to complete can now be completed in less than two years.

The General Electric China bio-campus in Guangzhou Knowledge City was completed in only 18 months, Wu shares. The development is leveraging on GE China’s tech expertise to support large-scale manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals.

As Wu further notes, it took less than 50 days for an eco-industrial park by Foxconn to go from negotiations to the project landing stage. “It took only 100 days to start construction,” he adds. Launched in March 2017, the park aims to make Guangzhou a world-class centre for manufacturing technology. It will be completed by June 2019, with a projected cost of 92 billion yuan.

The gains from all these projects are beginning to pay off, and Guangzhou’s officials are hopeful for the city’s high-tech future. “In our times, AI-powered calculations will happen in every single location, and these calculations can then become the driving force behind the development and running of Guangzhou,” Du concludes.

From hospitals to manufacturing hubs, Guangzhou has big plans to implement bleeding-edge technologies and make services more efficient. How will Guangzhou in 2050 look like?

Image by Kevin HoCC BY 2.0