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ChinAI #69: The 5G PPT Read Round the (Chinese-speaking) World
An exclusive full translation of the 100-slide deck that went viral on the Chinese web & became recommended reading for all Huawei employees
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If a 100-slide powerpoint about 5G goes viral all across China but no one in the English-speaking world picks up on it/let alone translates it except for ChinAI, then in this convoluted and mismatched analogy, does ChinAI make a sound that cuts through the noise?
THE CONTEXT: Three months ago, a 100-slide PPT titled “5G: Empowering AI and Smart Manufacturing” went viral on the Chinese web. On August 22 Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei issued an email to all employees, recommending that they read this slide deck, inspiring another wave of attention. The PPT’s author is Dr. Wang Xiwen, member of the central science and technology commission of the Jiusan Society (a political party whose membership mostly consists of high- and medium-level intellectuals in fields of science, technology, and education). He previously authored the first monograph on “Industry 4.0” in China. He used this slide deck to lecture and inform local government officials and entrepreneurs about 5G.
The PPT is divided into four parts:
5G is arriving now — a very useful explainer of what 5G is, what it enables (eMBB, URLLC, mMTC), and the value it will generate
5G Main System Architecture — covers the 5G bands allocated to Chinese telecommunications operators, key components of the system including mmWaves, miniature base stations, ultra dense networks to support large traffic loads, and how it all applies to smart manufacturing, vehicles, homes, medicine, etc.
5G-accelerated AI — goes through a range of AI applications that 5G will enable. Best example is smart transport (slides 71-73) which starts by giving a landscape view of how 5G can enable various forms of transportation and concludes with emphasizing why having both intelligent AND connected vehicles is crucial to integrate with urban transport networks.
5G Boost for Smart Manufacturing — framed around Made in China 2025 vs. Germany’s Industry 4.0, the deck illustrates how 5G will empower intelligent configurations of production methods, continue transition from linear, rigid manufacturing lines to flexible, highly integrated, and granularly controllable ones
Shout out to a ChinAI contributor who wishes to remain anonymous for helping me out with half of the 100 slides. A nice takeaway from them: “What stood out to me was the sheer scale of the presentation, ranging across everything from medicine to agriculture, smart courts, finance, governance etc. To my mind it just underscores that this will inevitably have to be a massive all-of-society effort: building the sprawling webs of hyper-connected social layers envisaged in that presentation just doesn't seem like a project conducive to rigid top-down direction.” Jeff’s quick blurb: 5G is not a singular technology that affects a single domain. It is part of a technological system that will affect many different domains.
DISCUSSED IN THE FULL TRANSLATION (in the style of Believer magazine): Dividing the speed of light by 36 billion hertz frequencies (slide 15) , the world’s first digital pill (slide 63), the “carphone” and the “shoulder phone” (slide 5), a three-step strategy to build a manufacturing power in 30 years (slide 82)
*Note: We directly translated a good portion of the slides that weren’t image-based; for the rest, click on the images and there will be a corresponding Google doc comment with the translation.
ChinAI Links (Four to Forward)
Must-read: Networked Dream Worlds: Is 5G solving real, pressing problems or merely creating new ones?
Shannon Mattern, Professor of Anthropology at The New School for Social Research, pushes us to conjure up some new “infrastructural imaginaries” for 5G’s rollout. What might be the most physical disruptive change to the nation’s communications infrastructure — new data centers, millions of base stations, fiber installations — may bring in a new wave of “digital redlining,” perpetuating iniquities between communities distinguished by race, class, and culture.
The race to 5G (what Mattern describes as a 21st-century Space Race at street level) is driven by market competition and international rivalries (e.g. China’s drive to 5G) but is it one worth winning? “50 years ago we ran highways through urban neighborhoods, for the sake of access and convenience, gutting cities in the process. Will we at some point regret having installed millions of cells and towers and mini-data centers for the sake of digital access and convenience?”
Mattern raises concerns about irradiation and privacy: will bathing every square inch of America with penetrating microwaves affect our health? Surveys of existing research have been inconclusive, some of the studies have been funded by telecom companies, and several towns have banned wireless towers in residential areas. Jeff’s note: I think some of this is unfounded paranoia but I also take Mattern’s point that, “Dwelling near nuclear plants and hazardous waste disposal sites, or amid leaded pipes, tends to cultivate distrust of other obfuscatory infrastructures.” Another risk often overlooked is that to personal privacy as networks of sensors and cameras will be enabled by the 5G network.
The 5G rollout will be slow and this momentary latency gives us a chance to dream new dreams. Do we really need this (the filtering of the world through AR googles, the collection of all our online and real-life activities, the new security risks and massive energy expenditures)? Vodafone’s CTO says we need to start thinking about 6G now. Mattern: “Maybe 6G, unlike its predecessors, won’t be about being first or fastest, most ubiquitous or unrelenting. Maybe it will be about energy efficiency. Or local responsiveness. Or slowness. Or reflexivity. Or privacy, or equity, or digital justice. Maybe 6G will enact a broader digital ethos, which affirms ‘the ways that technology can help individuals and communities be and relate to each other,’ as Seeta Peña Gangadharan puts it in “Digital Exclusion: A Politics of Refusal.” This implies a refusal of ‘access,’ speed, and growth as ends in themselves, and of tech companies’ hegemonic rule as a natural law.”
The feature PPT heavily emphasizes smart manufacturing. For a deeper dive beyond the buzzword, read this past ChinAI issue that takes us inside a few companies trying to adopt computer vision to facilitate better detection of cutting tool defects on the production line.
Should-read: Can Chinese Students Abroad Speak?
A callback to Spivak’s classic essay “Can the Subaltern Speak” (which interrogated the obstructions to being heard of those who inhabited the periphery), Shan Windscript’s article critiques Australian discourse for rarely acknowledging the existence of Chinese international students except within ethnicised stereotypes—variously, as ‘cash cows’, ‘CCP spies’, and ‘patriotic students brainwashed from birth.’
In this essay, she proposes “an alternative frame of thinking, one that foregrounds political agency as not only desirable but necessary, and one that centres voices of dissent—however fragmentary—among Chinese international students.”
Should-read: The 5G Fight is Bigger than Huawei
Elsa Kania urges us to recalibrate the conversation on 5G security away from a narrow focus on Huawei and toward a one focused on the underlying essence (cybersecurity, dependency, arbitrary exercise of state power) of the issues related to Huawei and one that recognizes that Huawei is still one among a number of contenders in the space.
Thank you for reading and engaging.
These are Jeff Ding's (sometimes) weekly translations of Chinese-language musings on AI and related topics. Jeff is a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, PhD candidate in International Relations, Researcher at GovAI/Future of Humanity Institute, and Research Fellow at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology.
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Any suggestions or feedback? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jjding99