Campus for sale

Campus for sale
Mar 15, 2019 (WiC 444)

There was an unlikely item up for auction on Alibaba’s Taobao recently: the campus of a privately-owned university in one of China’s ancient capitals, Xi’an.

The property comprises as many as 116 buildings across an area of more than 800,000 square metres close to the scenic Red River Valley National Park.

Bids for Huaxi Professional University will open at Rmb425 million ($63.2 million), 15% lower than the price first requested at auction in June last year.

According to National Business Daily, the sale is being demanded by the Xi’an Intermediate People’s Court as a result of financial crimes committed by the university’s former principal Wang Mingliang.

Wang took charge of a crowdfunding scheme that promised to pay high rates of interest over a five-year period, raising Rmb2.39 billion between 2007 and 2014. Yet the scheme only managed to return Rmb1.29 million to its 14,931 investors.

Wang and his accomplices were later charged with “illegal absorption of the public’s deposits” and the university was listed on Taobao’s ‘judicial auction’ platform, an online channel that has been liquidating confiscated assets since November 2012.

The auction platform is now used by over 3,300 courts across China, adds, although there haven’t been any bidders for the Xi’an campus yet. Proceeds from the sale of the campus will be used to reimburse some of the investors in the crowdfunding scheme, the court says.

Shanghai station in 5G first

Shanghai station in 5G first
Mar 8, 2019 (WiC 443)

The promise of 5G is that billions of machines, appliances and sensors can be connected at much lower cost through a network that is up to 100 times faster than 4G – conditions that will promote the broad application of the Internet of Things in areas such as autonomous driving.

While the commercial rollout of fifth-generation mobile technology is not expected until after 2020 for most major cities in the world, Shanghai will see one of its busiest railway stations, Hongqiao, deploying 5G by the end of this year. Practically-speaking that means travellers at the world’s first 5G-supported railway station will be able to download a 2-gigabyte movie in just 20 seconds, rely on artificial intelligence for directions and enjoy high-definition video conferencing plus virtual-reality gaming. The station management says it will also improve passenger flows at peak times thanks to a more sophisticated use of facial recognition technology.

Needless to say, Huawei Technologies is the chief engineer behind the infrastructure. Its 5G digital indoor system (DIS) is being piloted at Hongqiao. The company remains almost daily in the headlines, due to Washington’s efforts to stop its allies using the Chinese giant’s 5G solutions on alleged security concerns. This week Huawei announced it is preparing to sue the US government on constitutional grounds for blocking federal agencies from using its equipment. Meanwhile, Canada has seen its canola oil exports to China blocked after it agreed last Friday to extradite Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou to the US.

Time to drop anchors…

Time to drop anchors…
Mar 1, 2019 (WiC 442)

Mention CNN and the faces of its top news anchors will spring to mind. But could artificial intelligence render their role obsolete?

Xinhua news agency seems to think so after creating the world’s first female news reader. Called Xin Xiaomeng, she will make her “professional debut” reading the news during the upcoming ‘two meetings’ of the country’s national leglislature and political consultative body this month.

The AI anchor was created in collaboration with search engine Sogou. Based on images Xinhua has released, she looks like a typical newscaster and is also said to have convincingly real facial expressions.

Alongside Xin the news agency announced an updated model of male equivalent Xin Xiaohao, who can stand up and gesticulate. An earlier version was seen in November at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen. “I will work tirelessly to keep you informed as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted,” he explained helpfully in an introductory video.

Xinhua says that increased use of AI will bring down production costs. But perhaps the real upside for Beijing is that artificial anchors don’t veer off script.