AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order
Author: Kai-Fu Lee
Price: US $15.99
Paperback, 253 pages
Published by Mariner Books
IN September 2018, artificial intelligence (AI) scientist Dr. Kai-Fu Lee’s new book, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, was released around the world. Soon, it was in the bestseller list on The New York Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal.
With a rich background in AI, Lee serves as the chairman & CEO of Sinovation Ventures, a leading technology investment firm which focuses on incubating the next generation of Chinese high-tech companies. Before founding Sinovation, Lee was the president of Google China, and held executive positions at Microsoft and Apple as well. In his new book, Lee not only reveals the trend of human society in the era of AI, but also heralds that the skyrocketing AI development in China has made it a rival to the U.S.
The book consists of nine chapters. The first chapter is entitled “China’s Sputnik Moment.” Sputnik No.1 was the first artificial earth satellite launched by the Soviet Union, marking the country had taken the lead to enter outer space, thus constituting a great threat to the U.S. back then. In this chapter, citing the historical anecdote, Lee aptly presents the fact that China has gained an edge in the AI field, which has obviously made the U.S. feel uneasy.
In the ensuing three chapters, the author shares a great many cases based on his own experience to prove China’s comparative advantage in AI.
Firstly, as Lee points out, China is moving from an age of discovery to one of implementation, and is better positioned to win in implementation. In the model of U.S. AI development, elite cutting-edge AI researchers have been heavily relied on to make big breakthroughs. China’s AI development model is more about making full use of existing discoveries and applying them in companies and industries. He highlights several key factors that help China win in this competition, such as having numerous AI engineers, a robust entrepreneurial culture and favorable government policies. For example, in July 2017, the State Council of China published The Development Plan for the New Generation AI, which has been likened to China having another “Moonshot Program” due to its importance, and has already put it into full implementation.
Secondly, the amount of data in China is comparable to a massive ore mine, and this is what matters most in the AI era. Chinese consumers are now paying for everything on their phones, including food deliveries, bicycle sharing, and so on. Mobile payments are generating valuable data on what consumers buy and eat, where they are, and how they commute. It is a sea of data in the real world which is far more precious than the online data of likes, high frequency of clicks, and most recently watched videos.
Thirdly, Silicon Valley looks downright sluggish compared to its competitors across the Pacific – China’s scrappy entrepreneurs with their sharp instincts for building robust businesses in the highly competitive market. Lee made a good summary of digital China, saying that survival in the Internet coliseum requires relentlessly iterating products, controlling costs, executing flawlessly, generating positive public relations, and raising money at exaggerated valuations. China’s digital giants such as Alibaba, Tencent, Didi are all the champions.
In chapter five, Lee analyzes the four waves of AI: Internet AI, Business AI, Perception AI, and Autonomous AI. Each wave is a disruptive force for various industries and will make far-reaching impacts on people’s daily lives.
This is just the beginning, Lee predicts, and online-merge-offline (OMO) is next, when the online and physical worlds will really combine together. He gives an example of going into supermarkets in the future where you can talk with your shopping cart. It would know your shopping list already and what you are going to cook. It can tell you about sales on relevant items and suggest other things you might want. It would know about your family, their diets and allergies, and what they like and don’t like. It would even likely know what foods you currently have in your refrigerator. As you leave the supermarket, you would process the payment by phone or facial recognition, and the shopping system would also arrange the delivery or pick-up for you.
Actually in Beijing, this scene can be seen in some supermarkets. This is what Lee defines as “Perception AI,” in which AI has the ability to observe and listen, and does not have to receive orders from humans. While the “Perception AI” is emerging, software can monitor the traffic and streets, provide weather forecasts, watch people walking around stores and hospitals, and understand questions people ask. If “Perception AI” is combined with “Internet AI,” it should be able to get you living with the convenience of OMO within the next several years.
Since the discovery and in-depth research into it, AI has continued to transform society, boosting the efficiency of people’s work and daily lives. But in addition to the huge fortune it creates and high-efficiency productivity which it brings, there is also a certain massive destruction which we should be warned about, evidenced by the high possibility of large-scale unemployment of traditional industry.
In the seventh chapter, “The Wisdom of Cancer,” Lee combs through his reflections during cancer recovery. Then in the next chapter, he draws a blueprint for the coexistence of humans and AI, in which the cooperative and creative jobs are encouraged. A sustainable choice should be emancipating man from the repetitive jobs which emotionless AI can overtake, and put humans on the positions that require love, creativity, and inter-person communication.
Forbes magazine acclaims, “After 30 years of pioneering work in AI at Google China, Microsoft, Apple, and other companies, Lee says he’s figured out the blueprint for humans to thrive in the coming decade of massive technological disruption: ‘Let us choose to let machines be machines, and let humans be humans.’” Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, also recommends the book, saying, “Kai-Fu Lee’s smart analysis on human-AI coexistence is clear-eyed and a must-read. We must look deep within ourselves for the values and wisdom to guide AI’s development.”