Inside China’s AI revolution, with Jessi Hempel


A senior writer with Wired magazine discusses her reporting on Baidu’s research in artificial intelligence, and the surprising leaps that China is making in AI broadly.

China is a world leader in artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

If you had said that even five years ago — or in many circles, as recently as three years ago — you might have been laughed out of the room. But around the spring of 2015, a recognition of China’s progress in AI began to spread widely. As private companies have invested billions in research and the government has made it a top priority in the years since, that recognition has turned into shock and awe.

This week on Sinica, Jeremy and Kaiser are joined by Jessi Hempel, a senior writer with Wired magazine who recently published an excellent piece titled “Inside Baidu’s bid to lead the AI revolution.” Jessi explains on Sinica how the smallest of the three big Chinese tech companies (Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent) is applying extraordinary talent to AI puzzles, and where its advantages and disadvantages lie in the revolutionary new world of Chinese AI research.

Jeremy, Kaiser, and Jessi also discuss:

  • Should we be afraid of our new robot overlords?
  • Are Chinese less afraid of robot overlords than Westerners are? Why?
  • What is the role of the Chinese government in AI research?
  • Will SkyNet be real in China?
  • What are the challenges in making new AI technology?
  • Why does China have unique advantages in this field?


Jeremy: Magpie Digest, a newsletter about contemporary China, written by a few ethnographers and social scientists.

Jessi: Who Can You Trust?: How Technology Brought Us Together and Why It Might Drive Us Apart, by Rachel Botsman. It’s the best book that she’s read about understanding how the shift in tech is impacting the shift in organization. Also, it will help you understand bitcoin.

Kaiser: The newly released audiobook narrated by Michael Page of The Long Ships, a famous Swedish story of 10th-century Vikings by Frans G. Bengtsson.