I’m looking forward to getting my hands on Kai-Fu Lee’s forthcoming book, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, which Amazon tells me will be released on September 23.
In this interview with Russell Flannery, Shanghai Bureau Chief of Forbes Magazine, he provides a provocative foretaste of what to expect with some “blunt advice” for US companies about the growing challenges they face from Chinese companies in the AI market.
While acknowledging that the US has certain strengths, including its R&D base, Silicon Valley ecosystem, and research talent, he points out that the huge volumes of data that are being generated provide a “treasure trove that is like rocket fuel to make China’s AI better.” On top of this, he notes that Chinese leading tech companies are much hungrier and more entrepreneurial than their US counterparts and constantly pushing the envelope. In perhaps his most telling comment, he even goes as far to say:
“In the U.S., once you reach success, the product actually stagnates. If you look at YouTube, or Instagram or Snapchat, they look the same as they did five years ago. But if you go to a Chinese Meituan or a Didi or a WeChat, they look completely different from five years ago.”
A third key advantage he identifies is what he describes as the Chinese government’s “techno-utilitarian approach” – particularly the huge investments that it is making in building the infrastructure required for AI technologies to thrive. No other country in the world is building a massive new city like Xiongan that will support autonomous vehicles from the get-go or retrofitting existing highways to accommodate them in the future!
Lee doesn’t see Chinese AI companies being successful in the US or vice-versa, but he does believe that their more flexible and less “hegemonistic” approach will enable them to be more competitive than their American counterparts in other global markets. It’s going to be interesting to see whether he’s right.