Chinese consumers are the most optimistic people in the world about the likely impact of the digital economy on future society, new research shows.

The Dentsu Aegis Network’s China edition of its Digital Society Index 2018, created with Oxford Economics, ranks 10 countries, both developed and emerging, on how successfully they are building a digital economy that works for all society.

Overall, the UK leads the way, with the US in second place, and China third. But China’s optimism is striking compared to the more sceptical view of AI, robotics and digital tech evident in the West.

China still lags someway behind leading countries in terms of “digital dynamism”, or how effectively an economy is driving growth in its ICT sector, but 73% of people in the country believe the digital future will be bright.

Not only are Chinese consumers more positive generally, they also believe (65%) that emerging technologies will generate more jobs than they destroy over the next five to ten years. That’s 30 percentage points higher than the next-most optimistic country, France (35%).

In addition, 68% of people in China think their education – secondary and tertiary – is providing them with the right level of tech skills and knowledge to help them face the digital future. That’s by far the most optimistic of the 10 countries analysed.

A key driver of optimism is likely to be the Chinese government’s explicit target to be the global leader in Artificial Intelligence (AI) by 2030, with a sector by then worth $150bn.

To meet this goal, the government has launched a major programme to bring AI into the classroom, with AI courses and teaching aids. The project is designed to help the country meet future demand for AI professionals, which the government forecasts may reach 5 million in the coming years.

Technology is also driving rapid change in Chinese society more broadly, a recent WARC study noted (Baidu’s omni-marketing future).

Consumer behaviour is evolving dramatically, whether this is through the everyday use of QR codes, the use of facial recognition as a payment method, or even the readiness to digitise centuries-old traditions, such as giving digital money rather than red paper packets of cash to celebrate festivals.

The Dentsu Aegis Network report makes clear, however, that there is work to be done to fulfil people’s optimism. It says the ICT sector in China is relatively underweight in the economy; many people still don’t have access to the internet; and the security of data infrastructure trails that of other economies in the analysis.

Sourced from Dentsu Aegis Network, Reuters; additional content by WARC staff