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The Art of AI


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Kai-Fu Lee.

Sinovation CEO and chairman Kai-Fu Lee says the best role for artificial intelligence in the future is to free humans and resources for well-paying jobs in care-giving and creative fields.

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

As the world enters a new decade, research and development into artificial intelligence and its many applications are barreling forward, and nowhere more so than in China. Although popular narratives tend to focus on the threats posed by AI, the truth is that many of the technology's dangers have been overhyped, and its promises neglected.

A leading figure in the Chinese tech scene and in artificial-intelligence development globally, Kai-Fu Lee earned a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in 1988 before serving in executive roles at Apple, SGI, Microsoft, and Google, where he was president of Google China. Now the chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures in Beijing, he is the author of AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order. Here, he discusses the global AI race, the current state of the field, and what may – and should – come next.

Project Syndicate: As someone who long worked for U.S. companies and now oversees a tech venture capital firm, you're deeply familiar with the world's two main settings for AI development and research. What are the trade-offs of each R&D environment? What advantages does China offer over the U.S., and what must policymakers change or improve to achieve China's goal of catching up to and surpassing the U.S.?

Kai-Fu Lee: There is now a clear U.S.-China AI duopoly. AI in China is rising rapidly, boosted by several structural advantages: huge data sets, a young army of technical talent, aggressive entrepreneurs, and strong and pragmatic government policy. The attitude in China can be summarized as pro-tech, pro-experimentation, and pro-speed, all of which puts the country on track to becoming a major AI power.

From Project Syndicate
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