We’ve been hearing a lot about how artificial intelligence is helping companies like Alibaba and Amazon conquer a new frontier in consumerism. But, does AI only belong in the realm of the private sector?
If you ask Ma Huateng, founder and CEO of China’s Tencent (not to mention China’s richest person), he’d have over a billion reasons to tell you it doesn’t.
Tencent operates China’s premier social network app, WeChat. With over 1 billion users and 38 billion messages sent daily, WeChat is as indispensable to life in China as water. For those out of the loop, WeChat is essentially a combination of Facebook, Twitter, and Apple Pay on steroids. I’m able to check what my friends are up to on my timeline, post pictures and videos in real time, order a taxi, meal, or plane ticket, and pay my utilities. I rarely take my wallet with me or use cash anymore since I can pay virtually anything with WeChat Pay. As a recent, cringeworthy video states aptly, “I’d be screwed without my phone.”
A few years ago, Tencent began playing with AI functionality and philanthropy. Through the Tencent Charity function on WeChat, users can give micro-donations to the cause of their choice. These come directly from one’s WeChat Pay wallet in a matter of seconds. Oftentimes, the Foundation will run campaigns to encourage even more giving. We’re talking small donations on the order of 15 cents, but even these add up. A recent campaign for special needs students, a vastly underrepresented population in China, raised over US$2.5 million over the course of several months. It’s clear the micro-donation approach is working.
In a culture obsessed with appearances, Tencent has tapped into the platform as a means to one-up your friends. Not only does the user feel good about their donation, AI bots immediately post a notification on their timeline. This tells all their friends and followers just how good a person they are. By western standards this might seem slightly un-altruistic. In a country ranked the least charitable place on earth several years running, I think it’s a great way to spread the word that even a little bit can go a long way.