China is a vast laboratory both for new technologies and for policies and regulations in this area. The selection is difficult, but here are three themes to follow in 2022, including the potential for international repercussions.
1) Digital Yuan or Digital Remimbi (RMB). China is the first major economy to adopt a digital currency issued by the country’s monetary authority (in this case, the Central Bank of China). And 2022 is the year the government intends to popularize the digital yuan — it will, for example, use the Beijing Winter Olympics for that.
Tests have been going on for a while. In January 2021, the city of Shenzhen distributed to 100,000 residents, in a lottery system, electronic red packets containing 200 yuan (about R$ 170) each. To compete, it was necessary to install the digital yuan wallet on the cell phone.
More than 140 million Chinese have already installed the app, making it the most downloaded app in China this week. The number, however, represents a fraction of the users of the two mobile payment giants Tencent (with WeChat Pay) and Alibaba (Alipay). Each has around 900 million users in the country. Digital payments are widespread in China — and heavily concentrated in these two companies.
In addition to attacking the private duopoly, the digital yuan will allow the government to increase control over the financial system and facilitate transaction monitoring. It will not be able to catapult the internationalization of the Chinese currency, as some imagine, but even so, Beijing’s experiment will influence the performance of other central banks.
2) Green technologies. China remains by far the largest global emitter of CO₂, with about a third of the total, even though it produces approximately 70% of the world’s solar panels and controls 40% of the wind turbine market. In 2022, the country will continue to invest and reap the rewards associated with green tech, and new technologies associated with sustainability will be made possible by the recent expansion of the 5G network in the country, for example.
All this will be necessary not only for China to reach its CO₂ emission reduction targets. For the world to make the climate transition with the necessary urgency, it is impossible to run away from Chinese technologies — and that must not change. What happens in the country in terms of green tech matters a lot for global carbon accounting.
3) Regulation on artificial intelligence algorithms and governance. In March 2022, rules on algorithm-based recommendations will come into effect. One of the goals is for these recommendations to be made more transparently.
When, last year, there was a public consultation on the subject, images of cell phone screens circulated on the networks indicating that transport companies by application charged different amounts to users interested in the same route, at the same time. Netizens complained that user consumption profile information was used to algorithmically set different prices.
In addition to curbing practices that harm consumers, authorities say they want to fight fake news, protect the interests of the elderly (against online fraud, for example) and ban algorithms that addict children to electronic games or apps.
The government also intends to “spread positive energy”—which should include, in addition to control, the promotion of content that interests you on the web. Regardless of one’s opinion of it, the Chinese experiment, even for being a pioneer, will have repercussions on the global debate on artificial intelligence.
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