China will rival the US as the country with the biggest potential to develop key technology breakthroughs with a big impact on the business world, according to a survey of more than 650 executives in industries such as computing and electronics.
According to the poll, organised by the KPMG consultancy, Chinese companies and researchers are beginning to develop expertise in fields such as artificial intelligence and advanced software that will lead to “disruptive” changes in products and services and as a result provide China with a big economic boost.
In the study, 30 per cent of the executives asked to give their views said that China will be the single biggest “global hotspot” for innovation within the next four years, with the US in second place attracting 29 per cent of the votes.
India, Japan and South Korea came next in the poll, with 13 per cent, 8 per cent and 5 per cent of the respondents to the survey naming these countries.
Chinese companies named as being among the likely leaders in technology over the next few years include the Tencent and Baidu internet businesses and Huawei, the fast growing telecoms equipment group.
Areas of technology where Chinese companies are seen as developing specific strengths include gaming software and cloud computing. Other disciplines where China is regarded as having the capability to push ahead in innovation include low-energy industrial processing and nanotechnology – the science of tiny particles.
The executives who answered questions in the survey work in technology-based businesses around the world, mainly in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
Tudor Aw, KPMG’s head of technology in Europe, said that the results showing China was a fast developing rival to the US in technology were “surprising” given the country’s relatively poor showing in devising important technical innovations over the past 30 years.
“I think what the survey shows is that the big advances in education in China, and the money being put into technology development, are likely to lead to breakthroughs in a way that many people might not expect,” Aw said.
He added that the speed of change in technology often was extremely fast – as shown, for instance, by the fast rise to prominence in mobile telecoms by Nokia, together with the Finnish company’s equally rapid descent.
“Given the likely pace of change in the coming years in many areas of technology, it becomes plausible to think that China – in spite of its lack of a record in the past few years in this field – could be the country where the leading examples of innovation take place,” Aw said.
Among the factors that could hold back technology innovation were governments clamping down on the amount of personal information shared over the internet.
On the assumption that privacy fears were to lead to restrictions, then incentives to devise new ways to use the information would inevitably be reduced, according to people who participated in the survey.