BIG DATA NEEDS BIG VI­SION

Wealth of in­for­ma­tion on Chi­nese on­line pay­ments shows how re­search can ex­plain so­cial phenom­ena, says Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don ex­pert, Wang Mingjie re­ports.

China Daily (USA) - - PEOPLE - Con­tact the writer at wang­mingjie@mail.chi­nadai­lyuk.com

Con­sumer is com­pletely be­hav­ior re­flected in the use of in­ter­net pay­ments.”

Guo Yike - Found­ing di­rec­tor of the Data Sci­ence In­sti­tute. Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don

Big data is un­lock­ing the mys­ter­ies be­hind China’s con­sumer be­hav­ior, but the na­tion needs to fo­cus more on so­cial im­pact to spot op­por­tu­ni­ties and risks, ac­cord­ing to top Lon­don aca­demic Guo Yike.

The found­ing di­rec­tor of Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don’s Data Sci­ence In­sti­tute said the shift in China to­ward dig­i­tal pay­ment tools, fa­cil­i­tated by a well-devel­oped in­ter­net in­fra­struc­ture, means it is now a lot eas­ier to see how ci­ti­zens are spend­ing their money.

As peo­ple hardly use pa­per money any more, “con­sumer be­hav­ior is com­pletely re­flected in the use of in­ter­net pay­ments, which is not quite the case yet in West­ern coun­tries”, he said.

For Guo, the scale of the data is over­whelm­ing. The ex­am­ple he cited is Ali­pay, Alibaba Group’s on­line pay­ment plat­form, which han­dles more than 200 mil­lion trans­ac­tions a day. No sim­i­lar ser­vice in the West comes close to that fig­ure, he said.

“This kind of big data re­search is fun­da­men­tal to un­der­stand­ing a na­tion’s econ­omy and so­cial be­hav­ior.”

China has put a lot of ef­fort into big data in­no­va­tion and re­search, and its unique strength can be seen in ar­eas such as the health­care sys­tem, he said.

“It al­ready has a pretty mod­ern in­fra­struc­ture to ac­cu­mu­late pa­tient in­for­ma­tion. Also, due to the cen­tral­ized sys­tem, all hos­pi­tal data is un­der uni­fied man­age­ment, a great re­source for the fu­ture of per­son­al­ized medicine.”

How­ever, the use of per­sonal data is a dou­ble-edged sword, he warned.

“It means you know more about peo­ple. Big data char­ac­ter­izes in­di­vid­u­als us­ing a set of mea­sure­ments, which means I know you more, so I can make prod­ucts for your ben­e­fit or in­ter­ests,” he ex­plained.

“Yet it also means I can do some­thing that you re­ally do not like.

“What we have to do is de­velop a ma­ture le­gal sys­tem and make dif­fer­ent so­cial con­ven­tions to en­sure in­for­ma­tion on in­di­vid­u­als is re­spected and used prop­erly.”

The in­ter­net econ­omy and big data in­no­va­tion are two key ar­eas for the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment. How­ever, Guo said the em­pha­sis now lies too much on the tech­nol­ogy, find­ing new prod­ucts and in­dus­tries, while re­search in the West tends to fo­cus more on un­der­stand­ing the so­cial im­pact.

He be­lieves big data in the West could rev­o­lu­tion­ize medicine, as with more ac­ces­si­ble data, health­care could be­come more per­son­al­ized, the­o­ret­i­cally al­low­ing pa­tients to choose a doc­tor based on their own un­der­stand­ing, ill­ness or in­come.

“As a re­sult, we may see doc­tors dis­so­ci­ate from hos­pi­tals to of­fer pri­vate services. We could po­ten­tially have an Uber for doc­tors. That is a key ex­am­ple of how big data could change the en­tire med­i­cal care struc­ture.”

This is the kind of re­search be­ing done in West­ern coun­tries, he said, adding that if China fails to re­al­ize the im­por­tance of so­cial im­pact, the coun­try may not see cer­tain op­por­tu­ni­ties or risks, and will not have enough in­sight to set the rules in the fu­ture.

Guo, who was born in Shang­hai, gained a first-class hon­ors de­gree in com­puter sci­ence from Ts­inghua Univer­sity in the 1980s be­fore get­ting his PhD in com­pu­ta­tional logic at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don about a decade later.

He has worked ex­ten­sively on tech­nol­ogy and sci­en­tific data an­a­lysts plat­forms, with his re­search fo­cus­ing mostly on knowl­edge dis­cov­ery, datamin­ing and large-scale data man­age­ment.

In 1999, he founded In­forSense, a soft­ware com­pany for life sciences and health­care data anal­y­sis, and served as CEO for sev­eral years be­fore its merger in 2009 with IDBS, an ad­vanced re­search and devel­op­ment soft­ware provider.

Over­all, Guo thinks China should change its men­tal­ity of al­ways play­ing catch-up.

“In many ar­eas, it is an ad­vanced coun­try … so it should think about how de­vel­op­ments con­trib­ute to mankind, not just to China.”

Based on the scale of data on on­line pay­ments, he said China should make a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to de­cid­ing what kind of mech­a­nisms, fi­nan­cial rules, con­ven­tions and le­gal sys­tems can be de­signed, and what kind of im­pact the in­ter­net econ­omy will have on banks.

“As some­one of Chi­nese ori­gin, I un­der­stand how dif­fer­ent it is in China to make pay­ments nowa­days, but how many peo­ple out­side China no­tice that? Very few,” he said.

“So, just speak about it, re­search about it, tell peo­ple, make a con­tri­bu­tion and en­cour­age peo­ple to study it.

“In many ar­eas, China is in the lead, but they do not know it. They do not wish to know, and they do not dare to know, that is the prob­lem.”

In the past decade, Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don has be­come China’s No 1 re­search col­lab­o­ra­tor in Bri­tain. The col­lege’s Chi­nese part­ners in­clude Huawei Tech­nolo­gies, sci­en­tific in­sti­tutes at Ts­inghua, Zhe­jiang and Pek­ing uni­ver­si­ties, and the Chi­nese Academy of Sciences.

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping was given a tour of two of the col­lege’s fa­cil­i­ties, one be­ing the Data Sci­ence In­sti­tute, dur­ing his his­toric state visit to the UK in Oc­to­ber.

Guo pre­sented data anal­y­sis on hu­man mi­gra­tion to the Chi­nese leader, as he thinks un­der­stand­ing peo­ple’s move­ments, and the con­se­quences of that move­ment, is im­por­tant for pol­i­cy­mak­ing.

The re­search re­sults re­flected some in­ter­est­ing facts, he said. For ex­am­ple, young peo­ple from Zhe­jiang prov­ince tend to mi­grate to provinces like He­nan, which is not an ob­vi­ous choice.

“The rea­son this hap­pened is largely be­cause of the en­tre­pre­neur­ial op­por­tu­ni­ties in He­nan, which have been gen­er­ated by the build­ing of lo­gis­tic cen­ters in (pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal) Zhengzhou, a ma­jor rail­way hub, and by pref­er­en­tial poli­cies. That is quite an in­ter­est­ing re­sult.”

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Guo Yike

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