China and the United States have an enormous lead over other countries in the AI race setting the stage for a bipolar AI world. Whether it is private investments, where the super seven – Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent – dominate. Or public investments where billions of dollars are being pumped by governments to develop AI-based companies and cities. China and the US have a clear lead.
I recently had a chance to read Kai-fu Lee’s multi-layered book “AI Super-Powers”. Kai-fu makes great arguments as to why China could beat the US in the AI-race. And, given the winner takes all dynamics of AI, it might be an unsurmountable lead.
He argues, we are moving from an age of discovery to an age of implementation of deep-learning. From excitement around academic advances in AI to application of AI. Implementation will make the discoveries meaningful and change fabric of our lives. Andrew Ng compared AI to electricity. And, after the age of discovery of electricity, it was the age of implementing the power of electricity to our day-to-day lives that changed the similar. We are at a similar point with AI.
While the United States has had the edge in the Age of Discovery with brilliant elite AI scientists, the requirements of the Age of Implementation are different. It requires large number of battle-hardened entrepreneurs and tinkerers who can apply deep-learning to various fields, fail, get up, improve and try again.
Till a few years ago, entrepreneurs in China “copied” US ideas and implemented them in China. For example, Wang Xing created the Facebook of China – “Xiaonei”, which was almost a pixel by pixel copy of Facebook. Google of China. Amazon of China. Twitter of China. Etcetra.
While the copying did happen, there was an unexpected benefit to the Chinese entrepreneurship ecosystem. It created a new genre of battle-hardened entrepreneurs hungry to win.
For example, at one point there were thousands of discount buying sites copying the Groupon model in China. The battle to win was fierece. Wang Xing had created Meituan – originally as a copy of Groupon. But, in the ensuing battle to win against thousands of copy-cats Meituan innovated to meet the unique demands of the chinese consumer. Relentlessing upgrading the product, cutting costs, generating positive buzz, etc.
The entrepreneurs who have risen from the rubble of the copy-cat battles are the next-generation breed of Chinese entrepreneurs that are scrappy, hungry and unafraid.
In a previous blog, I mentioned the role of Iron-men to succeed in AI, these battle-hardened entrepreneurs are the Tony Starks of China. They will give China the edge in the “Age of Implementation” and the new AI world order.