Prominent entrepreneur and investor Kai-Fu Lee, has been exploring China’s AI capabilities for some time now. For this reason, he has a message for the United States.
According to Lee, the US government ’s complacency is the real threat to US preeminence in artificial intelligence as opposed to China ’s continued rise in the field.
Even though Lee is not entirely unbiased, he is best placed to understand the matter. In fact, during the 1980s, he worked on machine learning technology at the well-known Carnegie Mellon University.
He also led the China-based Microsoft research lab back in the 1990s before spearheading Google’s entry into China, particularly in the 2000s.
Currently, Lee is known for leading Sinovation Ventures, which is an AI-based incubator located in Beijing. What’s more, he is the author behind AI Superpowers, a recently published book exploring the American and Chinese AI booms.
Lee is convinced that the United States has failed to prioritize and invest in key AI research projects. Generally, technology firms concentrate less on vital breakthroughs than the academia sector, which is currently striving to compete with the private sector to retain researchers.
“The US should set out some really big challenges that the current technology cannot solve. A resurgence of interest in AI has been inspired, in large part, by stunning advances in deep learning, a technique that uses very large artificial neural networks to learn from data. But the approach requires huge quantities of data, and it tends to work only in narrow domains. A next set of technologies [is needed] to overcome the limits of deep learning. Commercial companies aren’t going to focus on these things,” Lee said to MIT Technology Review.
It is possibly easy to see as if China is winning the AI race. The nation’s vibrant technology industry has ventured into artificial intelligence(AI) at an unprecedented pace. Last year, the Chinese government revealed a remarkable plan to boost its AI industry.
Meanwhile, the US government appears to have taken a laid-back technique, relying on its well-established technology industry to drive developments in AI.
According to Lee, China’s entrepreneurial zeal, scale, and central planning have placed the nation in a better position to commercialize AI compared to the US.
However, he said that the US has a considerable advantage in fundamental AI research, which it ought not to waste.
He added that the Trump administration needs to follow China’s lead as well as that of Canada and France through investing considerably in AI research.
“Can there be a gigantic GPU farm that gives professors as much computing power as Google has? Can you use the National Institute of Standards and Technologies to create a gigantic database that will neutralize the advantages of Facebook?” said Lee, while referring to data centers fitted with the graphics chips that are utilized in training deep-learning models.
Lee said that the immigration policy enacted by the Trump administration is another liability. The United States has benefited considerably from bringing the best international professors and students to learning institutions.
Hence, it would be foolish to curtail them. Lee also argued that the idea that the Chinese students who are currently in the US are there to steal money is offensive.
Some time back, Lee managed to become a superstar for the AI scene in China. This feat assisted in boosting the reputation of China-based artificial intelligence companies.
Today, he argues that China and the US ought to collaborate in AI development. This is the same stand that most politicians and executives in China including President Xi Jinping appear to be taking.
Although these individuals may be biased, Lee’s assertions make some sense. He stressed that both countries can succeed in developing AI simultaneously by pointing out that Western and Chinese companies hardly ever compete in each other ’s markets. “We are largely operating in parallel universes, both of which can succeed and grow. It absolutely isn’t a zero-sum game,” said Lee.
Behind the Boom
The expansion patterns by these companies may likely define competition between both countries in the next 10 years or so. However, its effects in the long term are yet to be understood.
As companies in this field collect more resources, recruit more professionals and data, challenging them may become increasingly difficult.
When it comes to picking winners in the global AI race, Lee is cautious. “I don’t think China will necessarily dominate. But he suggests that China might be more welcome than the US in many places. Having been technically colonized by the West, China has empathy to help other countries develop their own industries and identity,” he says.