Week 2 marked the official commencement of ALP, with lessons beginning proper. The week started off with an official opening ceremony which consisted of speeches by the professors and staff of ZJU on what to expect in the coming 13 weeks and what one should do to survive and possibly excel in ALP.

One tip that caught my attention was the recommended use of local smartphone applications in our daily lives here. It took a while for me to get accustomed to that as I was not someone who relied heavily on my smartphone applications in my daily routine back in Singapore. Personally, I just did not feel secure using the apps; the amount of personal data I had to input just made me uncomfortable.

Local apps however are a necessary evil in China, they pervade every aspect of one’s daily life, from being a payment mode (Alipay), a navigation tool (Amaps), a tool to get recommendations on what and where to eat (Dian Ping) or even a metro card (Shanghai metro app).

QR code to order food in restaurant

Undeniably, usage of these apps brings about much convenience into our daily lives but it is also alarming at the same time that we are giving up our personal information in exchange. Take Amaps for instance, I find it disturbing that the app can track my real-time location; it makes me feel as though my movements are constantly monitored by “Big Brother”.

Would corporations which collect our personal data really keep our data confidential? Even then, we are still exposed to the risk of personal data leakage when information databases are hacked.

Enough of my ramblings, moving on we had our first lesson of ALP: Design Fiction. The mini project we had during the lesson involved us coming up with a storyboard with at least 20 frames on how people of the future were going to have their toast. It was interesting to see how we let our imagination run wild and concoct novel and seemingly ridiculous ideas. The key takeaway I got from the lesson was that we must dare to dream and imagine; what might seem ridiculous and impossible today might be the solution to our problems tomorrow.

A typical classroom in IDI
Design Fiction: storyboard

On Friday, I joined Theme 2 (Screens and beyond: using mixed reality technology to improve parcel scanning efficiency) in their visit to the Tmall (online supermarket under Taobao) portion of Cai Niao storage factory. Over there, I got to observe the inner workings of the factory from product delivery from suppliers, shelving of these products, collection of these products for packaging to shipping of packed products to customers. I was particularly impressed with the software used in the factory; there were not only algorithms in place to calculate the most optimal path a parcel should take to collect its goods but also algorithms which compute the most optimal way goods should be positioned in the parcel box to store the most amount of goods within each box. There is no doubt that automation does play a large role in the factory but the factory is still heavily reliant on human labour; this can be seen from the sizable number of workers employed and the reliance of human labour to manually pick the required goods from the shelves. To me, that clearly was not the most efficient way to do things. Perhaps as much as the factory strives to achieve maximum efficiency, it also wants to pursue other goals such as keeping its operation costs low while doing its part in employing a certain quota of workers; the current operation model of the factory is perhaps a delicate balance of the goals.

Snapshot of the entrance of the factory
How the warehouse looks like

I shall stop here for now and continue with my adventures in Shanghai for my next post.

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