Kai-Fu Lee and the U.S.-China AI rivalry


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This week on Sinica, Jeremy and Kaiser speak with Kai-Fu Lee 李开复, who has returned to discuss his new book, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order. Kai-Fu is a prominent member of the international artificial intelligence community and is chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures, founded in 2009. Kai-Fu brings to Sinica a wealth of knowledge on topics that have developed into rather large points of contention in the U.S.-China bilateral relationship over the past year: AI and its various usages across a wide range of industries; the “high-octane” nature of Chinese data; tech policy in China; venture capital and its interplay with domestic private companies; the future of China’s AI industry and what that means for the rest of the world; and the nuances of the business and finance aspects of running a technology company in China.

Kai-Fu previously spoke about artificial intelligence on Sinica last summer.

What to listen for this week on the Sinica Podcast:

4:52: A discussion on potential future “Sputnik moments” in the field of artificial intelligence and why, given historical trends, we might not see another breakthrough for several decades. Kai-Fu elaborates: “I think we’ve shifted to the age of implementation, where China excels and arguably is caught [up] with the U.S. and maybe leading the U.S. over the next five years.”

15:10: Kai-Fu in response to Jeremy’s question about China potentially exporting its AI capacity, and what effects that may have on the rest of the world: “…projected over time, I would expect the U.S. to be by far the leader, and perhaps the unchallenged leader, in the developed countries. But pretty much in all the other countries (in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and to a lesser extent, in South America), China is going to be a major force to be reckoned with.”

27:55: Kai-Fu describes three key undertakings of the Chinese government regarding industrial policy in China as well as how different provinces and institutions have different uses for AI. He also likens China’s infrastructure investments to Eisenhower’s creation of the Interstate Highway System.


Jeremy: The Lutheran and Shakespearean insult generators, fantastic resources for online discourse.

Kai-Fu: A slew of sci-fi movies: 2001: A Space Odyssey; Minority Report; Robot & Frank; Gattaca; and his favorite sci-fi TV show, Black Mirror.

Kaiser: Alec Ash, executive editor of the China Channel at the L.A. Review of Books.

This podcast was edited and produced by Kaiser Kuo and Jason MacRonald.

Check out the sponsor of this episode, Yoyo Chinese, by going to www.yoyochinese.com/sinica — be sure to enter the code Sinica at checkout to receive 15% off!