On the outskirts of Hangzhou, eastern China, in Alibaba's Cloud Town, a Silicon Valley-style working and leisure hub, cutting-edge research in artificial intelligence (AI) and smart city developments at one of China's largest tech companies are showcased. It is a half-empty dystopia of almost comic proportions where the future of automation and infrastructure in southern China is played out. While Alibaba exhibitions and conferences occur sporadically, the full scope of what goes on there remains hidden.
Having long claimed to be apolitical, Jack Ma, the billionaire co-founder and executive chairman of the tech giant Alibaba, was recently revealed to be a member of the ruling Communist party of China (CCP). It's another in a long list of links between corporate and state apparatus that stretch far beyond the borders of China. Nevertheless, a glimpse into the projects the company is working on in Cloud Town, considered in light of these revelations, should set the alarm bells ringing with fear of a dystopian future of state and corporate control.