One after another, I hand the microphone to the next startup CEO, in front of two giant screens where they debut glimpses of their companies’ virtual and augmented reality ventures. They’re pitching for capital from an audience of roughly a thousand predominantly Chinese investors. We’re not in Shanghai or Beijing, but at the Santa Clara Convention Center and, unlike virtual technology, this wave of Chinese investment is very real.
Last week’s 2016 Silicon Valley Future Forum, sponsored by Makers Technology, was my chance to see up-close the recent surge of Chinese capital, partnerships, and interest in Silicon Valley and San Francisco technology. Chinese businesspeople, entrepreneurs, and investors view technology and innovation as their greatest chance to revamp their economy and add to personal wealth. Virtual reality and similar technologies are widely viewed as essential to growth.
The conference was headlined by Chinese and Chinese-American bigwigs including Makers Technology’s CEO Daniel Zhong, venture capitalist and founder of the Runway incubator Allan Young, Chinese investment leader Fangri Hu, Stanford physics professor Shoucheng Zhang, futurist Sheng Zhao, and many more investment leaders and technologists. The conference gave venture fund stakeholders and investors (both Chinese and Californian) an early look at US and international startups specializing in augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence & biotech.
Most of the 28 companies pitched in English, with simultaneous translation provided to the majority of the audience via headsets. A few speakers pitched straight to the audience in Chinese, at which point I and a few dozen others in the ballroom were now the ones who had to don headsets to listen in.
Up on the big screens and out in the exhibition hall, you could see, hear, and feel many of these new experiences. Many, such as Xspaced, are designed to let you “walk through” houses or condos, a popular end-use in China’s gigantic property market. There was an artificial intelligence entry that seems promising but scary: the Tech Trader Fund, a fully autonomous AI-driven hedge fund that invests without human intervention. And there were many ventures with thrilling potential: Enflux VR’s “motion-capture clothing” enables athletes to track their body movements to heighten performance; immersive nature experiences from Mindshift VR may help individuals recover from illnesses; an environmental stimulation device called Vortx from WhirlwindVR blasts air, and changes air pressure and temperature to heighten the immersive aspect of VR games and films; a smart ring called Talon from Titanium Falcon offers Wii-like controls for VR and AR headsets; Telepresence Robotics Corporation provides a Robots-as-a-Service (RaaS) platform and related apps.
This stunning Chinese transformation of business in Silicon Valley has now come to feel like the new norm for those riding the latest wave on the tech conference circuit. Chinese entrepreneurs with substantial backing are quickly putting together major conferences, (taking part in the quintessential Guanxi-building Chinese banquet, which last Tuesday was held for several hundred at the Santa Clara Hyatt) arranging tech tours and company visits for large groups of visiting Chinese at an accelerating rate. Smart, trend-savvy Californian businesspeople are lining up to join on both sides of the podium. This explosive growth is fast outpacing earlier California beachhead efforts from Europe, Latin America and other parts of Asia.
The day after my Master of Ceremonies gig at the 2016 Silicon Valley Future Forum, I found myself on the Stanford University campus, delivering a three-hour innovation lab to 60 entrepreneurs visiting from China. Thanks to my intern, Haosheng Wang, all of my workshop handouts and materials were translated into Chinese, and I could deliver my lab in English, and easily convey my concepts. But here’s the weird part. Four days in a row last week, steering large groups of investors and others through innovation events, there was only a single day that I didn’t need a Chinese translator. Speaking to the incoming MBA class from the University of San Francisco, I found myself suddenly flying solo in English, an experience that now felt alien.
Welcome to the Chinese-flavored Silicon Valley and San Francisco. It’s not augmented reality or virtual reality. It’s real life in the expanding, increasingly international business of technology, a place where Chinese capital, communication, and cooperation are rapidly rising in importance.
本次会议邀请到了诸多中、美重要相关人士出席，包括创客科技CEO Daniel Zhong，风险投资人及Runway孵化器创始人Allan Young，中国投资引领者Fangri Hu，斯坦福大学物理学张首晟教授，未来学家赵胜，以及许多其他投资业领导者和技术专家。此次会议为风险投资基金股东和中国及加州的投资者提供了一大批初创公司的早期展示，主要集中在美国和国际的增强现实、虚拟现实、人工智能和生物科技方面。
在会展中心的这些巨大的屏幕之上你可以看见，听见并且感受到许多新的体验。例如Xspaced公司设计了一款能够让你“走进”房屋或者公寓的虚拟现实产品，会受到中国巨大的房地产市场欢迎。在会展中心有一个使用人工智能的金融公司看起来很可靠同时也有些吓人在里面有一家叫The Tech Trader Fund，一个全由人工智能来进行对冲基金和投资的公司。还有一些其他被风投的公司有着可怕的潜能：Enflux VR的“动作捕捉服装” 可以让他们的衣服可以记录运动员的动作由此来提高他们在赛场上的表现；Mindshift VR通过让用户身临其境的体验大自然来让用户从疾病中恢复；一家叫Whirlwind VR的公司有一个环境模拟器叫做Vortx，Vortx可以吹出空气，通过改变吹出的气压和温度来提高虚拟现实的游戏和电影的体验；Titanium Falcon的智能戒指Talon可以让人们像操控Wii 游戏机一样来操控他们的虚拟现实以及增强现实设备；Telepresence Robotic Corporation提供了一个让机器人服务（RaaS）的平台以及相关App。
Translated by Zhiheng Gong and Haosheng Wang.