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商业 - 科技

押注区块链,中国欲取得先发优势

Naomi Xu Elegant 2020年01月03日

中国正在集合全国之力开发区块链赋能的科技项目,意图在此领域拔得头筹。

人们谈论中美之间的科技较量,其实是两国在人工智能、5G网络、量子计算和半导体领域的卡位战。

与此同时,区块链技术却没有从地缘政治角度得到足够的重视。区块链不仅是比特币底层技术,还可以应用在跨境支付、供应链管理和制造业中。

支持者说,区块链将给所有的行业带来革新,而怀疑者认为区块链的扩展有难度,并质疑这其潜力到底能否发挥出来。而中国似乎已经坚信区块链的大好前景。政府正在集全国之力开发区块链赋能的科技项目,意图在此领域拔得头筹。

Any talk of the on-going “tech Cold War” between the U.S. and China includes the countries’ positions in the fields of artificial intelligence, 5G networks, quantum computing, and semiconductors.

Meanwhile, the development of blockchain, the distributed ledger technology that underpins Bitcoin and has potential uses in cross-border payments, supply chain management, and manufacturing, has not received the same kind of geopolitical scrutiny.

Proponents say blockchain will revolutionize industries across the board, while skeptics point to difficulties with scalability and question whether the technology can live up to its potential. China, for its part, seems to have its mind made up on blockchain’s benefits. The government there is spearheading a national effort to develop blockchain-powered technology so it can gain an early edge in the field.

图片来源:123rf

区块链热度

“(在中国)现在关于全区块链概念的热度很高。这意味着钱会流入这些初创企业,可能很多企业会失败,但至少热度和兴奋度很高。”欧亚集团地缘科技业务主管保罗·特里奥罗说,“在中国几乎每天都有一场关于区块链的会议。”

自从2019年10月国家倡议加速区块链开发后,“突然之间,中国人人都在讨论区块链。”特里奥罗说。

自去年3月以来,在网信办注册的区块链相关项目已经超过500个。

海南是中国的第12个自由贸易区,也是“区块链试验区”。试验区还设立10亿元区块链产业基金,要把海南纳入中国的科技港湾大计划。

“在官方发话后,可以预计会有越来越多的区块链应用出现在中国大陆的市场上。”香港区块链初创公司CryptoBLK创始人及首席执行官王世松说。

打击虚拟币

政府推动的区块链创新,并不包括比特币之类的虚拟货币,国家对区块链背书之后紧接而来的,是全国范围内对虚拟货币交易的打击。

“投资者不能把虚拟货币等同于区块链技术。虚拟货币的发售与交易包含着多种风险,包括虚拟资产、运营失败和投机事件。”中国央行上海总部在2019年11月22日发文说。

台湾初创企业Machi X联合创始人及首席执行官郑贯一说,目前对私人虚拟币交易的打压,是“这一行业的一大进步”。该公司使用区块链技术注册音乐版权并将版权销售自动化。

“监管思路进一步明确了,这样一来能实实在在地使用区块链技术来解决实际问题,比如像我们这种,就能持续发展。”郑贯一说。

中国最大的几家科技公司,比如电商巨头阿里巴巴和京东,都已经开发了区块链平台。京东使用区块链技术追踪散养鸡,消费者可以查看食品供应和食品安全的数据。阿里巴巴也用区块链技术追踪食品供应。这两家公司也将其区块链平台开放给其他商家使用。

“在区块链这事上,国家似乎说了去干吧,或是给了祝福,但现在还不明朗的是,除了食品供应和食品安全追踪,区块链还有什么更广泛的实际应用。”特里奥罗说。

特里奥罗补充说,中国的区块链发展或许仍然处于“最早期”,但这一新兴科技对政府有吸引力,因为它意味着未来中国有机会在全球范围内至关重要的技术领域实现自给自足。

未开发的领域

某种程度上,在成熟科技领域,赢家和输家都已经尘埃落定。比如中国一直努力想要发展自己的半导体工业;而中国进口芯片花的钱超过进口石油花的钱。在人工智能领域,中国也经历着人才枯竭的问题,因为顶尖人才都在美国。而区块链代表着一片未开发的领域,没有一个国家有明显的领先优势,而在获取软件或硬件方面,中国也不必依靠其他国家。

据新华社报道,中国“要强化基础研究,提升原始创新能力,努力让我国在区块链这个新兴领域赢得优势。”

“区块链不是一种非得与美国相关的科技或能力,美国也不见得会在这一领域领先世界,所以这对中国来说是一种有趣的新科技,这是中国有机会不依赖于外部来源的科技,不像软件和半导体。”特里奥罗说。

美国联邦政府针对区块链技术并没有什么政策,特朗普总统也没有公开宣称其重要性。

去年10月召开了一场长达6小时的针对数字货币Libra的国会听证会。从这个会议能窥见美国官员对区块链技术的态度:区块链不怎么样。众议院金融服务委员会用一个又一个的质疑炮轰Facebook的马克·扎克伯格,显示了他们对这家科技公司和其创始人的怀疑态度,也表达了Libra可能会挑战美元在全球金融系统中地位的担忧。在监管机构的不确定态度下,Libra也是步履维艰。

人工智能显然可以在军事上应用,半导体对于现代商业科技至关重要,比如手机和电脑,而区块链是一种更“弥散”的科技,较难理解,也缺少一种明确和广泛的应用。这也解释了为何区块链没有成为中美科技角逐的一个焦点,特里奥罗认为。

“区块链是一种有趣的商机,但我认为它不是中美科技竞争的重要部分,部分原因是中国打击了虚拟货币。”特里奥罗说,“我觉得区块链在中美科技竞争中,处在一个边缘的位置。”

郑贯一看好区块链技术,称之为“根本性的变革技术”,可以与千禧年初互联网对科技界的震撼相提并论,不过他也补充说,这种冲击对于“前端用户来说,可见度要小得多。”

“我觉得还早,还需要观察。”特里奥罗说。(财富中文网)

译者:宣峰

Blockchain buzz

“There’s a lot of hype right now [in China] around the whole blockchain concept. That means money will flow into startups and probably a lot of them will fail, but there’s at least a lot of hype and excitement,” says Paul Triolo, practice head of geo-technology at Eurasia Group. “It seems like there’s a conference every day now in China on blockchain.”

Since Chinese leader called for an acceleration of blockchain development in China at a Politburo study session at 2019 October, Triolo says, “suddenly everybody’s talking about blockchain.”

More than 500 blockchain-related projects have been registered with the Cyberspace Administration of China, the central government Internet regulator, since last March.

In the tropical island province of Hainan, which became China’s 12th free trade zone in 2018, the government launched a “blockchain pilot zone” with a $142 million fund to finance blockchain companies, part of a larger plan to turn the region into a national technology hub.

“After [leader’s] announcement I’m expecting to see more and more blockchain-based applications coming out of the mainland China market,” says Duncan Wong, CEO and founder of Hong Kong-based blockchain startup CryptoBLK.

Crypto crackdown

The government push for blockchain innovation does not include cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and an ongoing, nationwide crackdown on cryptocurrency exchanges in China came on the heels on leader’s blockchain endorsement.

“Investors must not treat virtual currencies the same as blockchain technology. The issuance and trading of virtual currency contain multiple risks, including fictitious assets, operation failure and speculation,” the Shanghai headquarters of China’s central bank said on Nov. 22, 2019.

Leo Cheng, co-founder and CEO of Machi X, a Taipei-based startup that uses blockchain to register music copyright ownership and automate royalty distribution, says the current crackdown on private exchanges is “a great step forward for the industry.”

“It creates further regulatory clarity, and it allows projects that are solid and solving real problems with blockchain in a compliant manner like ours to continue to proceed forward,” Cheng says.

Some of China’s biggest technology companies, like e-commerce giants Alibaba and JD.com, have already developed blockchain platforms. JD uses blockchain to track free-range chickens so consumers can access food supply and food safety data. Alibaba has also used blockchain to track food supply. Both companies have made their platform services available for other businesses to use.

“[Chinese leader] has given the sort of go-ahead or blessing to blockchain, but it’s still not clear what real applications are going to be developed that are broader than things like food supply and food security,” Triolo says.

Triolo adds that it may still be “pretty early days” for blockchain in China, but the nascent technology appeals to the government because it represents a chance for China to become self-sufficient in a technology that may be globally significant in the near future.

Uncharted territory

Winners and losers have already emerged, to some degree, in established technologies. China, for instance, has long struggled to develop a homegrown semiconductor industry; it spends more money importing chips than it does on importing oil. With A.I., China is experiencing a brain drain as the U.S. snaps up top-tier talent. Blockchain, meanwhile, represents uncharted territory; no country has a clear advantage and China is not reliant on another country for access to software or hardware.

In the Politburo study session on blockchain, Chinese leader said that “more efforts should be made to strengthen basic research and boost innovation capacity to help China gain an edge in [...] the emerging field,” according to a recap of the speech by state-run news agency Xinhua.

“Blockchain isn’t a technology or capability that is uniquely associated with the U.S., or that the U.S. is perceived to have a lead in, so I see it more as an interesting new technology where China has the chance to not be dependent on outside sources of technology like they’re going to remain for things like software and semiconductors,” Triolo says.

The U.S. government has no federal policy on blockchain technology, nor has President Donald Trump publicly espoused its importance, as Chinese leader did.

A six-hour congressional hearing back in last October on Facebook’s blockchain-powered digital currency Libra—the most prominent showcase yet of U.S. officials’ attitude towards blockchain—did not go well. The House Financial Services Committee bombarded Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg with questions that revealed their skepticism of the embattled tech company and its founder, and voiced concerns that Libra would challenge the U.S. dollar in the global financial system. Libra has since languished in regulatory limbo.

Whereas A.I. has obvious military applications and semiconductors are essential to modern commercial tech like smartphones and laptops, blockchain is a more “diffuse” technology, harder to understand, and still lacks a clear-cut, widespread application, which might explain why blockchain hasn’t become a focal point of the U.S.-China tech rivalry, Triolo says.

“Blockchain is sort of an interesting niche, and I don’t think it’s seen as a huge part of the U.S.-China technology competition also because China has cracked down on [cryptocurrencies],” Triolo says. “I think it just has a different sort of place, if you will, in the U.S.-China tech competition.”

Cheng is bullish on blockchain, saying that it will be a “fundamentally transformative technology” akin to the effect of the Internet on the technological landscape in the beginning of the millennium, though he adds that he thinks the impact will be “a lot less visible to [front-end] users.”

The Chinese government has certainly spotted its potential. “I think we’re still in the early days of watching,” Triolo said. “[C]learly in China the leadership has said, ‘Go out and unleash blockchain.’”

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