The Big Picture: Artificial intelligence reshapes China’s workforce

World Today

Artificial Intelligence is catching on in almost every aspect of life. Soon, robotics technology will be the big thing to watch—and to invest in.

What’s the relationship between man and machine and could robots actually replace humans one day?

As part of our series “the Big Picture”, CGTN’s Zou Yue visits one of China’s tech hubs.

A warehouse owned by—China’s answer to Amazon—is run by robots, 56 to be precise. They take care of all 5,000 square meters. They read the shelf, they carry the boxes, and they move them around.

It used to be a human job; on a regular day a stock picker had to walk 50 kilometers. Now, machines can easily beat the record without slowing down or needing a break. Xiao Jun, vice president of, is the man behind the change. He is a programmer by training, but now, he is programming a revolution of his own business.

“We will put more robots and artificial intelligence into our operation,” he said. “For example, a well-programmed robotic arm can sort one package per second, something out of the question for humans.”

But still relies heavily on human workers. The company now employs 120,000 of them. And it boasts the fastest couriers to deliver the biggest amount of goods to consumers in China. But gradually, the game has changed.

JD wanted to become even faster and bigger with artificial intelligence, the new smart in the world. It’s not only in the retail sector that this shift is occurring. AI is catching on in almost every aspect of life.

At the 2017 World Congress of Robots in Beijing, the Chinese showcase machines for fun, for business, for heavy lifting, and for subtle massaging.

So where does this leave humans?

“Humans will take on more sophisticated jobs,” Xiao Jun said. “They may be the designers and controllers of robots, and they can teach machines to do things and be better at doing things.”

To teach machines, you need to know machines, and that requires training. There are already thousands of classes to train drone controllers all over China. Given how fast technology is progressing, it’s easy to picture hundreds of thousands of controllers flying goods to billions of people in the future.

And that future may not be far away. A J-drone, JD’s new courier, can carry 10 kilos of goods and travel 50 kilometers in one go. But it is not fully automatic yet. It needs a human to load, unload and control. But you never know how fast technology will grow and how far it will fly.