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

In Silicon Valley, there is substantial stigma attached to imitating the business models or features of other companies.

The result is analogous to natural selection in evolution: All the companies start from the same branch on the family tree, but they make mutations in their product or business model to gain an edge.

After companies like Uber and DiDi proved the viability of ride sharing, China’s start-up world tried out every possible iteration of it: shared basketballs, shared umbrellas, shared bicycles, shared mobile phone chargers.

Most of these efforts died quickly, but those that survived — including a handful of the strongest shared-bike start-ups — turned into multibillion-dollar companies and revolutionized urban transport in just a couple of years.

In the simplistic story often told in the United States, Chinese bureaucrats in the central government pick winners among the companies, load them up with enormous subsidies and then protect them from foreign competition.

How AI Will Reshape Companies, Industries, and Nations: An Interview with Kai-Fu Lee

A bank can use it to improve customer targeting, acquisition, conversion, lower the default rate, and improve credit fraud.

Finally, there will be autonomous AI, which will power robots and autonomous vehicles, which will completely turn upside down existing products, companies, and business models, requiring companies to completely rebuild themselves.

Anything with a camera or a multitude of cameras can be used, and faces are just the beginning, because once you recognize faces you can begin to understand movement and intention, moving onto a full-scene understanding.

For example, trucks on highways will be implemented faster than passenger cars on city roads, and there will be many other non-road examples, such as airport parking, that don't require a full understanding of traffic.

I think we need to be watchful to ensure that the technology companies are fully ready when they deploy—no one is forcing you to launch on city roads at night.

I think we need to benchmark accident rates of autonomous vehicles against human drivers and make sure we can sleep at night knowing that, on the average at least, the technology performs better than humans.

Former Head of Google China Foresees an AI Crisis—and Proposes a Solution

IEEE Spectrum: Why do you believe that China will soon match or even overtake the United States in developing and deploying AI?

Kai-Fu Lee:The first and foremost reason is that we’ve transitioned out of an era of discovery—when the person who makes the discovery has a huge edge—and into an era of implementation.

Chinese entrepreneurs find areas where there’s enough data and a commercially viable application of AI, and then they work really hard to make the application work.

It may be better to have rich data from one set of people who have the same language, culture, preferences, usage patterns, payment methods, and so on.

Spectrum: You describe China’s startup ecosystem as a brutal “coliseum” where companies don’t win because they’re the most innovative, but rather because they’re the best at copying, using dirty tricks, and working insane schedules.

They kept layering on features that users wanted, they iterated, they threw away the features that didn’t work, and at the end they had a product that was the most innovative social network.

Instead it’s how we’ll deal with the “real AI crisis” of job losses, wealth inequality, and people’s sense of self-worth.

That’s how we decided to structure ourcapitalistic society: There’s the idea that even by working routine jobs, they can make money and make better lives for their families.

Spectrum: If this kind of economic and societal upheaval is an inevitable consequence of AI, is there any chance that we’ll decide to turn away from the technology, and decide not to use it?

We did, as humans, control the proliferation of nuclear weapons, but that technology was secret and required a huge amount of capital investment.

While China is building cities and highways to facilitate autonomous trucks, the American trucking union is appealing to President Trump to forbid testing on highways.

If the U.S. is currently ahead on autonomous trucks, but chooses to slow down the development forfear of taking away jobs from truck-drivers, the only outcome is that China will catch up.

Chinese companies will test the trucks, get the data, that data will make the AI better, at some point the technology will be so good that China will export it to the rest of the world.

It was only when I faced cancer and possible death that I realized that no amount of money, success, or fame could substitute for the love I have from other people.

You write that we must “forge a synergy between artificial intelligence and the human heart.” Can you give me an example of how this synergy might manifest in the job market?

Imagine a future clinic, in which the room is enhanced with all sorts of sensors that take readings of your body and give the human doctor lots of information.

In many countries, each person gets only five minutes of doctor’s time—but while the doctor may only need five minutes, the patient needs much more to feel heard, to ask questions, and to be reassured.

Maybe they don’t need to be full MDs with 10 years of education and internship, since they no longer need to memorize all the symptoms and treatments.

Kai-Fu Lee

In fact this is how they've become so valuable because they take the data that we provide and our actions and use that to maximize their revenue or user benefit or some combination.

So banks insurance hospitals and so on will collect data in we'll have data in their domains and they can use it to make better decisions about credit card fraud detection long approval's investment allocation and so on.

For example AI can decide on making loans to people what kind of insurance policies to issue can be added with computer vision and robotics and.

Build the self driving autonomous vehicles or machines that can manufacture a future products without human involvement or even autonomous agriculture.

How is the redistribution of wealth and the retraining for the new jobs or early retirement or a shift to voluntaryism can transition the works out so that people can continue productively and happily.

In the book you lay out almost a four quadrant matrix of the types of jobs that will be most likely to be replaced or are being replaced now and the types that are least replaceable.

So for the highly creative highly compassionate jobs AI doesn't have a chest the best tools to help us do better in those jobs for the jobs that are highly creative but doesn't require human interaction or compassion.

Let's say scientists might discover more drugs for the jobs that are highly interactive with human component compassion empathy but not that creative.

For example doctors teachers that they'll make the professions more effective and leverage the AI tools and be able to reach out to more people that way.

Yes I think the doctor's job will change into that of interacting with a patient understanding the patient's history teasing out all of the necessary ingredients to make a good diagnosis have the make the patient feel listened to and then have to rely on the AI to make the possible diagnosis and the doctor can potentially override.

The doctor is going to be mainly the human communication tool to offer warmth compassion care confidence and that outcome means the type of healthcare that we're able to get today can be provided to all the poor regions and countries at a much lower cost.

The China advantage is that China has a lot of entrepreneurs and a lot of capital to fund them and they work extremely hard and are tenacious in finding every business opportunity in phases 1 2 3 and 4 of AI and but most importantly China has a lot more data than everyone else because all this AI is automatically learning based on data the more data you have the better your AI is.

I think there is a virtuous cycle for them because more data builds better products makes more money then more machines even more data that virtuous cycle makes monopolies harder to break.

It used to be the picture was two guys in a garage coming up with a better mousetrap or something better than two young women in a dorm room.

I think what they can invent a brand new application and that will over time coming to competition and challenge sort of like how Facebook became kind of a threat to Google at times.

So I think the new companies can challenge old ones but probably and generally not indirectly going into a market in which a nearly monopolistic position is already there.

And whatever the governments want to argue and fight over I sure hope the American people understand there are one point three billion people who would love to be America's friend.

You've said that it took a horrible stage 4 cancer diagnosis for you to learn to slow down and you're actually evangelizing in a way for other companies in China to create a different kind of work culture.

The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence

It’s a virtuous circle, and the United States and China have already amassed the talent, market share and data to set it in motion.

For example, the Chinese speech-recognition company iFlytek and several Chinese face-recognition companies such as Megvii and SenseTime have become industry leaders, as measured by market capitalization.

It seems American businesses will dominate in developed markets and some developing markets, while Chinese companies will win in most developing markets.

I foresee only one: Unless they wish to plunge their people into poverty, they will be forced to negotiate with whichever country supplies most of their A.I.

software — China or the United States — to essentially become that country’s economic dependent, taking in welfare subsidies in exchange for letting the “parent” nation’s A.I.

One way or another, we are going to have to start thinking about how to minimize the looming A.I.-fueled gap between the haves and the have-nots, both within and between nations.

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