The award-winning virtual reality film "Tree" offers a rare multisensory experience of becoming a rainforest tree from a seedling in just 15 minutes. Reading a short speech into a microphone analyzes your voice and tells who you are — your sex, height, skull type, personality and emotional state. A high-resolution video camera identifies you from 500 meters away.

These computational imaging and artificial intelligence-driven technologies were all on display at the World Economic Forum's conference in Tianjin, China, last week. Some 2,500 leaders from politics, academia and a range of business sectors, including many startups, from around the world gathered in the city for the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2018 — often dubbed the "Summer Davos" — where they experienced these advanced technologies and discussed how those such as AI and blockchain will influence society in the coming years.

Until recently, the undisputed world leader of innovative technologies had always been the United States, but this year's conference showed how other countries, including China, are catching up quickly.