Thursday, October 4, 2018

China’s smartphone is paving the way to AI supremacy

I wrote the short piece below in early September to help publicize Kai-fu Lee's book and speaking tour.

Artificial intelligence (AI) used to be a popular sci-fi topic but the idea that the computer can do things that the human cannot, took a lot longer to come into reality.  Even today, AI is far from perfect; a self-driving car can still run over a pedestrian.

However, thanks to the development of deep learning in AI, Waymo, the self-driving startup spun off from Google, is already valued at well over $1 billion despite not yet having a commercial version that would replace the driver behind the wheel. Deep learning is the concept that the algorithm can self improve based on the date fed into the AI program. This is why Waymo vehicles constantly drive around Mountain View to generate more data and thus keep refining the computer model intended to replace the human driver.

According to Kai-fu Lee, within the last three years, deep learning has also enabled China to catch up to Silicon Valley in AI. Lee has just written a new book entitled, “AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order,” in which he explains that China’s adoption of the smart phone and mobile computing has allowed China to catch up to Silicon Valley and in some situations even surpassed Silicon Valley.

Today 800 million smart phones in China are used in many more ways than in the US and thus can generate orders of magnitude of more data for their applications based on AI. For example, the smart phone in China can serve as a digital wallet to send and receive money. The homeless sitting on the sidewalk can panhandle by dangling the computer code for the passersby to scan by phone if they wish to donate to the panhandler’s bank account. The AI algorithm may not be as powerful as that written in Silicon Valley, but the availability of vast amounts of data can more than make up the difference.

After getting his PhD in AI from Carnegie Mellon, Dr. Lee joined Apple and led the development of the voice recognition system that became Siri. This was even before Steve Jobs rejoined the company. He then went to China to start R&D centers for Microsoft and Google before becoming a leading venture capital investor of AI startups in China. He is certain that AI will be as revolutionary to the world as the steam engine that led to the first industrial revolution and electricity to the second.

As part of his book tour, Dr. Lee will visit the Bay Area to talk about AI, the strides China has made and the implications for the world. He will speak at the Santa Clara Convention Center on September 26, jointly sponsored by The Committee of 100, The Commonwealth Club and NACD, northern California chapter. Go to
For more information and to register.

The author is a retired international business consultant, a member of Committee of 100 and occasional contributor to online Asia Times.

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