Reggie in China – 12 July 2021 – 12/7/2021 – Monday – BBC Two
The City of the Future
Series 1 Episode 1 of 3
In a wild, eye-popping, thought-provoking adventure, Reggie Yates travels to China and visits four very different cities, all at the forefront of the modern nation, to discover the new fault-lines in society and how they affect a generation who have grown up with seemingly more freedom than that of any other in the last 70 years. At a time of enormous change in the country, he discovers how a new wave of creatives, innovators, entrepreneurs and migrant workers are transforming China, and the world, while looking back to China’s past to understand how it has reached its position of global powerhouse, and how the state’s cultural boundaries have been redrawn.
In the first episode in the series, Reggie visits Shenzhen – China’s ‘miracle city’. The entire region used to be farmland and fishing villages, home to just 30,000 people. But in just four decades, it has become a teeming metropolis of over 12 million, and the epicentre of China’s tech revolution. They say if you want to see the future of the human race, you have to come here. Reggie has ten days to get to grips with this city, understand its history and its impact on today’s China, before he goes to its 40th birthday party.
Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping dreamed of this city, and since he founded it 40 years ago, Shenzhen has flourished into a city of pioneers working at the very forefront of technology. Reggie delves into the city’s short but extraordinary history, meeting the inventors and innovators who arrive from all over China and the world looking to make their fortunes in this tech gold rush. Reggie learns that if you can dream it up, you can develop and make it in the ‘City of the Future’.
Reggie starts in Huaqiangbei, the Silicon Valley of China, where he meets two strikingly young inventors – Leal and Alex have developed a device inspired by science fiction – a translating earpiece device akin to the Babel Fish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The earpiece uses an intelligent algorithm to instantly translate the spoken word, and play the translation back directly into the wearer’s ear. Reggie takes the earpiece for a test drive around Shenzhen, and even further afield to Hunan Province, where he meets Leal’s parents and grandfather and learns more about the generational shift taking place in China.
Shenzhen’s economy has boomed in recent years, and growing numbers of entrepreneurs and expats are choosing the city as their base. Reggie visits HAX, a hardware accelerator that invests in tech start-ups, bringing them to Shenzhen to create prototypes and support their development. Reggie takes a tour around their lab and trials some of their latest prototypes – from ear-mapping headphones and voice-assisted glasses, to ping-pong playing robots.
Elsewhere, inventors are taking to the skies to revolutionise everyday life – inventor Zhao Deli gives Reggie a demonstration of his Magical Cloud – a genuine flying motorbike and another startling example of science fiction becoming reality, before Reggie visits a restaurant that now delivers hot food to customers via drone.
Being a pioneer isn’t always easy – Zhao Deli and his family talk about how difficult it can be to acquire funding, and the perils of being your own test subject. And Reggie meets Nigel, who works for a drone company and introduces him to 996 life – working from 9am to 9pm, six days a week – a testament to the drive of Shenzhen’s residents and a stark reminder that progress comes at a price.
For Reggie an uneasy relationship between innovation and freedom runs through this city: China is investing heavily in artificial intelligence, and facial recognition technology combined with CCTV to monitor public areas such as shopping centres, and even to deliver real-time reprimands to jay-walkers on the streets. In some cases, this saves lives – such as the AI that monitors the fatigue levels of commercial lorry drivers – but all this data, resting in the hands of a one-party state can feel unnerving.
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About Reggie in China
Reggie discovers contemporary China, diving deep into four megacities in search of the new generations transforming their future.
This show is broadcast on BBC Two, also known as the British Broadcasting Corporation.
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