In the past two years, big data technology is developing at an astonishing speed. Its economic benefits and social influence continue to be recognized by more people. Big data is even listed by scholars as one of essential factors of production such as hard assets and human capital.
U.S. is playing a leading role in deploying big data and developing the expertise needed to harness this information technology and create value. According to an estimation by McKinsey, the widespread use of big data and analytics in U.S. could produce $290-610 billion in annual productivity gains and cost savings.
China, quickly following the steps of the U.S., is investing a huge amount of time and money into big data technology and its applications. Big data analysis of everything from health care to preference in entertainment and super-computing devices are being made. China’s Tianhe-2 supercomputer is the fastest in the world dealing 33.86 quadrillion floating point operations per second. According to government projections, there are more than 1.35 billion people and more than 618 million Internet users, China’s information market value will exceed 3.2 trillion Yuan (US$515 billion) in 2015, capable of creating a new golden era for the internet industry in China and altering the competitive landscape of various other industries.
As a new breakthrough technology with enormous economic potential, big data provides a new thinking and platform for China and U.S. cooperation. Four areas are feasible for China-U.S. cooperation initially: uncover business and sales potentials, build smart cities, police affairs and law enforcement cooperation, and cyber and information security cooperation.
Firstly, uncover business and sales potentials. Big data can be used to identify specific consuming groups and treat them differently. Google has been authorized a patent to dynamically price contents. The New York Times also reported that it has started compiling analytic profiles of its customers and predicting purchasing trends based on subscribers’ purchasing history. US-based budget hotel operator Super 8 Worldwide recently declared it has gained from the application of big data in China. In just one system, Super 8 Worldwide gets data analysis, data integration, and data reporting, so management can more easily analyze the business from multiple dimensions. It is intending to use the technology to expand from 450 hotels to 1,000 hotels in three years in China. Comrise China is also researching the possibility of aggregating inputs of U.S. and Chinese websites to gain a more precise understanding of who is looking for new jobs and what Internet activity can trigger a job search. In the same way, emerging global Chinese corporations like Haier and Huawei are trying to use big data to define hidden or previously unrecognized buyer behavior and market trends in U.S. and other oversea markets.
Secondly, build smart cities. Big data is enriching human experiences of how cities function, and it is offering many new opportunities for social interaction and more informed decision-making with respect to our knowledge of how best to interact in cities. On March 16, 2014, Chinese government released the “National New-type Urbanization Plan (2014-2020),” which sets clear targets: By 2020 the country will have 60 percent of its people living in cities, up from 53.7 percent now. Urbanization is designated as a national priority. Big data can provide valuable insights to help China toward more efficient, inclusive, and sustainable urban country. Moreover big data can contribute to channel social discontent. By analyzing social media networks and blogs and then using big data technology, cities would be able to measure public opinion on key issues and services such as public transportation, waste management or public safety allowing them to prioritize and shape policy. In this area, Chinese and U.S. companies have found cooperation opportunities.IBM, in cooperation with China’s Sichuan Huaxun Zhongxing Technologies, has declared to invest nearly CNY 30 billion (approximately US$4.88 billion) to build a service center dedicated to using big data technology to research and develop smart cities. It is a good start.
Thirdly, police affairs and law enforcement cooperation. Now, China is facing a growing terror threat. It is an urgent task for China to deter terrorism. U.S. anti-terrorist measures, especially the technical practice, are valuable for China. According to U.S. law enforcement experience, big data is effective to collect illegal financial transactions, to exploit financial information in an effort to identify previously unknown terrorist handsets and to recognize potential terrorist suspects and planning. It is reported that the U.S. has developed a voiceprint database for several key government departments covering national security, intelligence and the military, where big data systems can be used to help prevent terror attacks and to conduct analysis when an attack occurs, such as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Police departments in Washington D.C., New Castle County and Delaware are also reported to use “predictive policing” models of big data to shine investigative light on unsolved cases and even help prevent future crimes.
Fourthly, cyber and information security cooperation. Big data is based on the large collection of data. Such large data sets are naturally prime targets for hackers or leakers. The quicker the big data industry expands, the more prominent data security and privacy issues become. Xiaomi Corp, a Chinese smartphone producer, is taking personal data without permission and Baidu collected unauthorized geographical locations through its app services have caused concerns among the Chinese public. Big data’s rapid development makes it more urgent for the Chinese government to devise appropriate policies and provide a favorable market environment and a sound legal framework. In the short term, eliminating common cyber threat and risks deterring the development of big data will provide positive energy to resume the suspended activities of the China-U.S. Cyber Working Group, set up by the China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue, as the U.S. exaggerates China’s cyber espionage.
As such, when China and the U.S. both politically reiterate they are determined to avoid conflict and maintain peace, despite deep differences over maritime security and mutual recriminations over cyber-espionage, cooperation in big data could provide a new but real propeller for China-U.S. relations.
Yu Xiang is an Associate Fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.