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What China Can Teach the U.S. About Artificial Intelligence


The movement from discovery to implementation marks a significant shift in artificial intelligences center of gravity.

China excels at turning an abstract scientific breakthrough into thousands of useful, commercially viable products.

Credit: Jun Cen

Every technology goes through an age of discovery and an age of implementation. During the age of discovery, the critical work takes place in research laboratories, where scientists make the breakthroughs that move the field forward. During the age of implementation, the technology reaches a point of practical utility and begins spilling out of the lab and into the world.

Over the past decade, I've watched firsthand as the field of artificial intelligence has transitioned from one phase to the other. The 1980s and 1990s were a period of discovery in A.I., one that I participated in through my research on speech recognition at Carnegie Mellon University and Apple. More recently, I participated in the implementation phase through my work as the head of Google China and as an early investor in the Chinese mobile internet.

This movement from discovery to implementation marks a significant shift in A.I.'s center of gravity — away from the United States and toward China. The age of discovery relied heavily on innovation coming out of the United States, which excels at visionary research and moonshot projects. The country's freewheeling intellectual environment, unparalleled network of research universities and traditional openness to immigrants (such as myself) have for decades made it an incubator for big ideas in A.I.

A.I. implementation, however, plays to a different set of strengths, many of which are manifested in China: abundant data, a hypercompetitive business landscape and a government that actively adapts public infrastructure with A.I. in mind. China also excels at turning an abstract scientific breakthrough into thousands of useful and commercially viable products. This process, which is far more challenging than most researchers acknowledge, has driven the market capitalization of many Chinese tech companies far beyond that of the American peers they were once accused of "copying."

 

From The New York Times
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