Alibaba’s former CTO is building an unconference for China’s youth

2050 aims to equip young people to take action and to become volunteers. Ahead of the event in May, we are taking a look at some the companies and people who are taking part in the massive unconference–an open space event with organization powered by participants. 2050 is a volunteer-only, not-for-profit unconference. TechNode is organizing the Explore Expo, an exhibition area for young tech startups looking for exposure.

Yunqi, a small town near Hangzhou, made its reputation as the home to Alibaba’s annual tech event, the Yunqi Conference, which usually involves big names in the Chinese tech scene like Jack Ma and Robin Li. Long established as a hotspot for China’s tech industry, this town is going to witness another one-of-a-kind gathering that could make it a tech hub for future generations.

“Most of the conferences in China are held for those who are already successful in their careers, but none targets young people. 2050 wants to fill the gap, giving Chinese youth a stage to make their own voices heard and maximize their energy and talent,” said Wang Jian, founder of the 2050 conference, which will be held in Yunqi Town from May 25 to 27. Wang was CTO at Alibaba from 2012 to 2015 and is now chairman of the Technology Steering Committee at Alibaba Group Holding Limited.

As we all know, it’s hard to be creative and innovative, people can get stuck in a rut, and start offering only one solution for the same problem. But for young people, still to be worn down by life’s twists and turns, there are fewer constraints. Recognizing this, the possibility of seeing the same problem from a different perspective can be seen in 2050’s title.

“We named the event 2050 because it’s neither too far nor too near and it’s easy to remember. But people may have their own interpretations. Some keep asking why not 2048 because it would be much easier for programmers to understand. Governors wonder why not 2049 because it’s the 100th anniversary of the country. Cryptocurrency fans believe 2100 is better because the total amount of bitcoin is 21 million. Another interesting interpretation of the title is that the event is held for people between 20 to 50 years old,” Wang recalls the anecdotes with his good humor.

Dr. Wang Jian speaking at ChinaBang 2018 (Image credit: TechNode)

2050 is an unconference for young people around the world. “Over half of the world’s population are under 30 years old. We want to bring the world’s youth to the spotlight, talking about innovation in their way, observing the world through their eyes and solving challenges using their methods,” said Wang when explaining the reason for founding the event.

“We want to build connections that could foster new ideas and innovations from all around the world. This is the first 2050 event, so we may expect most of the participants to come from China. But for the long-term vision, we expect it to be an international gala where someone from Tokyo could meet peers from Cape Town.”

Unlike most Chinese events, 2050 will be organized through the sole power of volunteers, be it individuals, companies or institutions. The volunteers are not just individuals, but organizations including the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Shanghai, Hangzhou municipality, TechNode, Geekbang, designer platform Tezign, co-working space People Squared, English learning app Liulishuo, AI startup Pony.ai, and more. Volunteers constitute a diversified lineup of speakers covering various topics such as AI, cloud computing, blockchain, and space technologies.

The three-day event plans to welcome more than 20k participants. A variety of sessions will be held, including 100 panels, 100 booths, 100 meetups, spiced up with gatherings like a music show, light show, camping, morning jogging, and even games of Go. “There are still boundaries among different science categories. We want to show that tech could be something universal, like sports and art,” Wang said.

In contrast to his identity as the founder of 2050, Wang Jian is more commonly known as Alibaba’s CTO and founder of Alibaba’s cloud computing arm Aliyun. He is known for his farsightedness and shrewd understanding of China’s internet industry. When Alibaba launched its cloud computing service years ago, Wang—the driving force behind this project—faced a lot of controversies. Even Wang himself admitted that it was a crazy move to venture aggressively far outside the company’s core competency. It turns out that all the efforts are worthwhile as Aliyun is China’s largest public cloud service provider now.

A native of Hangzhou, Wang earned his undergraduate degree from Hangzhou University in psychology and later his PhD in engineering from Zhejiang University. He spent several years teaching at Zhejiang University before landing a job with Microsoft, where he worked for nine years as a researcher and programmer.