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China uses ‘big data’ to track elderly
May 30, 2016 News

These days, when people over 80 in Beijing take a bus, see a doctor or spend money, their activities are digitally tracked by the government, as part of an effort to improve services for the country’s rapidly growing elderly population.

The data amassed with each swipe of the multi-purpose senior citizen’s card goes into a massive database of the elderly in the capital. City authorities hope the information will enable them to better cope with their burgeoning population of over-60s, which already stands at three million.

Though geared toward the elderly, the program demonstrates how China more broadly is using big data to better direct the use of government resources for the country’s 1.4 billion people. Beijing’s strategy is to use new technology and its heavily censored internet to innovate and propel China’s transformation to a services-based economy – a strategy that Premier Li Keqiang has said “will trigger a new Industrial Revolution”.

In a sophisticated example, Beijing municipal government is collecting the disparate data on the elderly in order to predict what services will be needed in the future. This is to make sure it has the necessary budget and services in place, by taking into account people’s decreasing mobility, for example, said Bai Qiang, vice president of Beijing Community Service Association, a city government agency.

“All of the data we are collecting now, including visits to parks, the use of public transport and (numbers of) shopping trips, will help us to predict whether the elderly will become disabled in the future,” Bai said.

The thinking is that if an elderly man is paying fewer visits to parks or taking buses less, that will show up in the data. The government can then judge what the disability rate will be in future and prepare a budget plan in advance, Bai said.

The State Council, China’s Cabinet, issued a plan to promote big data in August, calling for the accessing and sharing of government data to improve governance.

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