India is losing the AI battle to China, one app at a time
A year ago, there were only 18 Chinese mobile apps among the top 100 apps on Google Playstore in India, and only two of them among the top ten. The number, as my FactorDaily colleague Shadma Shaikh wrote earlier this month, has now doubled.
TikTok, a short video-hosting social platform, already counts India as its biggest market with 39% of its 500 million global users based here. And it’s not the only app being touted as a potential YouTube killer in India. LIKE and Kwai, apart from other live-streaming apps such as LiveMe and BigoLive, are other contenders for the position of the top video app in India.
Quietly and steadily, China’s app factory has been conquering India, far away from the mainstream noise about e-commerce and telecom. And very soon, these Chinese apps will have more data and insights about the next billion Indian internet users than any other platform, including Facebook and Google.
Why does that matter? China wants to dominate the AI world and fast-pace its transition from being a factory of the world to becoming a high-value destination for smart machines that mimic the human brain. Acquiring more data and throwing it all at the machines so they learn faster and deeper, is the holy grail for AI dominance.
Consumer apps such as TikTok and BigoLive that have massive engagement with their users and capture hundreds of millions of data sets everyday feed into China’s big data arsenal. And while India will retain its status as the world’s battlefield for acquiring the next billion users, it will be about the American and Chinese internet companies looking to conquer the final frontier. Already, two of India’s biggest e-commerce companies — Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart — are US enterprises.
Let’s look at how China’s app factories carefully put together their own playbook. It is all about pushing the boundaries, focusing obsessively on the vernacular market and doing whatever it takes to go viral (including soft porn). Kwai, for instance, is a breeding ground for child pornography. The app encourages users, especially underage girls to perform vulgar gestures and lip sync to suggestive songs, among other acts.
Chinese platforms are beginning to realise the dangers of pushing soft porn content for achieving virality. LiveMe, for instance, had to delete 600,000 accounts of children under 13 after Fox11 news channel in Los Angeles talked of the dangers of paedophiles exploiting children.
To be sure, these apps are well-designed products in terms of technology sophistication and user interfaces.
ByteDance, for instance, has designed and launched Helo, a regional entertainment content platform specifically for India. If you haven’t heard of Helo yet, it’s only because the app only targets small-town, first-time, vernacular users. Helo is not even available in English. It is available in 14 regional languages including Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and Bhojpuri.
The strategy is already paying off. In fact, for some of these Chinese apps, India is the only market of focus. SHAREit, a social content platform, believes it will have to shut down if there’s no India market for the app. They have watched the India market closely for years and learned from the failures too. WeChat, which failed to make any dent, is a case study for any new Chinese app entrant to learn what not to do.
And then, there’s India’s homegrown Sharechat, which was launched in 2015 and has over 50 million downloads. Sharechat demonstrated how savvy and first-time internet users in India’s tier 2 and tier 3 towns can be tapped with vernacular content. Chinese apps such as ByteDance’s Helo have been really quick to learn from Sharechat’s playbook.
For its part, the US is already planning to clamp down on China’s investments in Silicon Valley with the Congress passing the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (Firrma) last August.
Several startup founders and investors have been talking in hushed tones about the need for India to look at similar tactics. The stakes are high. Already, Chinese companies have invested more than $2 billion in Indian startups in 2017 alone.
Meanwhile, India’s classic love-hate affair with China is already catching up with the country’s fledgling startup ecosystem. Startup founders and investors in India are beginning to feel increased government scrutiny, often caught in the middle of “Doklam-like” confrontations.
A board member at one of the top Indian startups backed by a Chinese fund decided to quit, sensing upcoming “complexities”. "This year is going to be about economic nationalism," he told me. “And I would rather not be seen as being on the other side.”
Dean - traveller - 3 hours ago -Follow
wgst we want urgently is one Indian "Google ". China has beidu. we want an Indian search engine.
Amar Ufaq - Nizamabad - 3 hours ago -Follow
india busy in hindu muslim, mandir masjid, caste and creed, people are in power are more eager to build mandir, and chinese are getting advantage of all...alas still these morons are treated as patriot who are breeding the seeds of hate..god bless my india
Nikola Tesla - 2 hours ago -Follow
India is a frog and China is a mountain. No comparison at all
Sandeep Srikumar - 1 hour ago -Follow
I have lived in Singapore. I have lived in west too. Let me tell you never trust Chinese, they are disgusting, racist and down right dirty. India should never allow any thing from that country. Yes we are more back ward than them, but that does not mean we should have any thing to do with them.
Sajal - Dehradun - 2 hours ago -Follow
Kick out and ban All Chinese Software Apps and Products. We have to Ensure that Democracy Survives. It is Also the Responsibility of the Govt to Prove that it is Neither friendly Nor Bowing to China. Please Prove it.
Vishal - 2 hours ago -Follow
India & China should have open boundaries, peoples can go freely to anywhere like one continent with dusk nationality
Rohan Seth - Location - 2 hours ago -Follow
Indians are capable only of doing the routine stuff: billing software, accounting software, SAP implementation etc. Iss se jyada kuch nahi hoga.
Balbhadra Dhagat - Bhopal - 2 hours ago -Follow
While we China believes in Meritocracy, we have full faith in our Quota system. We have enough scope to go down further.
Pinaki - NYC - 2 hours ago -Follow
Except for producing more kids, we are and will continue to lose all battles with China.
Suresh Kumar - 2 hours ago -Follow
''China and India were almost the same in terms of GDP during 1980s. India''''s GDP per capita was, in fact, slightly higher than China''''s . Then, the Chinese economy grew very fast through some bold steps and radical reforms. After 25 years, Chinese manufacturing sector leaped eight times the size of Indian sector" . Apathy, negligence and colossal corruption left India far behind. … Modi led NDA has made schemes like ''Make in India'' and "Start up India" to make our manufacturing industries very competitive. Hope Govt will give more importance to Artificial intelligence sector as well.
Biju G - 1 hour ago -Follow
So much for being a software superpower. It would be better if we kept quiet and seriously innovate.
Pakisarehomosandsuck - Kalooooo Gandu Pakistan - 1 hour ago -Follow
tik tok keeps cropping up in searches for media players....
Mushtaq - 2 hours ago -Follow
we can compete with China only in population which we will surpass in 2035
Vijay Banga - new delhi - 8 mins ago -Follow
The war for global leadership in artificial intelligence and machine learning is well underway, and the US is poised to lose perhaps the most important technology war in its history.India is not there
Guru Ghantal - 19 mins ago -Follow
India can not catch up to China. Politicians and thereby people are responsible for Indias failure.
Baljeet Singh - 3 hours ago -Follow
India is leader in AI. There in ancient evidence in all vedas. Rishis was master in AI. RSS has published paper on this also
Vijay Banga - new delhi - 3 hours ago -Follow
China publishes more journal articles on deep learning than the US and has increased its number of AI patents by 200%. China is determined to be the world leader in AI by 2030.
Vijay Banga - new delhi - 3 hours ago -Follow
The Chinese have a extremely well-funded commitment to AI.