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Future cities will adapt like living organisms: Alibaba tech expert

Wang Jian was once called crazy by Jack Ma Yun, the founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holding, for suggesting that the company can have its own mobile operating system.

That vision, however, proved prescient as smartphones powered by the company's YunOS mobile operating platform, which was developed by its Alibaba Cloud subsidiary, already surpassed 100 million units last year, the South China Morning Post reported.

In addition, many of the Hangzhou-based e-commerce company's recent innovations are rooted in Alibaba Cloud, known as Aliyun in China, as domestic demand for data centre facilities and on-demand computing services delivered over the internet have grown rapidly.

"It's not about whether I'm crazy or not, it's about this era," Wang, the chairman of Alibaba's technology steering committee, said in an interview in Hong Kong, where he met with some journalists to talk about his new book Being Online.

"[This] is a crazy era, so many new things are happening."

Wang, 55, said the city of tomorrow should be able to adapt to its surroundings and inhabitants, almost like a living organism, so that municipal services like public transport, health care and education can be delivered in the right measure and time to minimise waste and optimise usage.

To that end, a city's development would be better determined in future by the amount of computing resources it consumes, said Wang. At present, electricity consumption is widely regarded as the measure of development for cities, he added.

Similarly, the day-to-day behaviour of a city's residents now has little impact on how a city is organised as well as the way its services are planned and developed, said Wang.

That would change with advanced computing technologies that are able to track human behaviour.

"Do you want to take the bus, or is it because it's been put there so you're taking it?" asked Wang, using fixed bus routes as an example of how a city's services are rigid and do not adapt quickly to changing patterns in the behaviour of its residents.

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