Lex Fridman discusses with Kai-Fu Lee Artificial Intelligence, Culture, Entrepreneurship, and the Chinese government support for building a smart future in China. They also discuss the implications of AI, jobs that will and will not be automated in the near future, and how America and China differ from each other in the growing digital age.
Kai-Fu Lee (@kaifulee) is a Taiwanese-born American computer scientist and businessman currently based in Beijing, China. He developed the World’s first speaker-independent, continuous speech recognition system for his Ph.D. thesis at Carnegie Mellon. He has also worked as an executive in companies like Apple, SGI, Microsoft, and Google.
Kai-Fu Lee is the author of the book AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order where he discusses how China is rapidly progressing in the field of AI and may surpass the United States in the process.
Enjoy the conversation takeaways drafted concisely in this Artificial Intelligence Podcast Kai-Fu Lee Show Notes.
- While the American approach to Artificial Intelligence is trying out new things, using technology to solve most of the problems and having some error-tolerant ways to deal with data, the Chinese put a lot of time and effort to clean the data that might lead to better results. Kai-Fu Lee thinks that may be an approach like this can make the Chinese succeed with autonomous vehicles because they will have more data which will mean better results.
- The Silicon Valley culture is dreaming big, having visionary goals, being confident, and usually not venturing into an area already explored by another company because of the feeling that it is clearly not innovating.
- The Chinese, on the contrary, have a do-whatever-it-takes-to-win approach. They wade into existing markets knowing that the winner can take it all. Flexibility, speed, and execution also help them in their entrepreneurial ventures.
- Both approaches are unique in their ways and have their advantages. Kai-Fu Lee wishes that Silicon Valley could jump in more eagerly into known waters like the Chinese instead of always innovating and finding new markets.
- According to Kai-Fu Lee, the three companies that have some Chinese characteristics are,
- 10 years ago, most of the entrepreneurial ventures in China were copycats of American companies. However, the scene has changed a lot where new companies like Ant Financial, VIPKid, Pinduoduo, and Mobike are leading the way with innovation.
- The Chinese government supports the entrepreneurial spirit by taking care of the infrastructure needs of the country like building smart cities and roads.
- Kai-Fu Lee says that about 50 to 80 percent of the routine jobs will be replaced in the next 5 to 10 years. He sees routine white-collar jobs being easier to replace (with software) than routine blue-collar jobs that would require robotics, mechanical excellence, and other difficult things.
- Kai-Fu Lee says that typical back-office jobs, telesales, telemarketing, and customer service are in the danger of being taken over by AI.
- The jobs that cannot be automated include things like drug discoveries, managing a company, and a host of compassionate jobs that involve human compassion, empathy, and touch. Some examples of compassionate job workers include teacher, doctor, concierge, and masseuse.
- Kai-Fu Lee thinks that a Cold War-like mentality between countries will be very dangerous in the future. He wants basic trust and communication established to engage, interact, and put some protocols in place to avoid disasters.
- Responding to the censorship policies of countries, Kai-Fu Lee says that there is no perfect correlation to show that more freedom of speech or expression correlates to more creativity which then correlates to more entrepreneurial success. He insists that he isn’t against Freedom of Speech or Expression and thinks that they are needed but there is no perfect correlation to prove that they are connected to creativity and entrepreneurial success.
- Kai-Fu Lee advises people looking to start a company in the technology and artificial intelligence space to understand beforehand their business, their customers, and the marketplace. He says that the tech waves move quickly and it is important to think about the pain the new company is trying to address and how it translates into business and monetary value.
- If an Artificial General Intelligence is developed, the one question that Kai-Fu Lee will ask it will be, “What is it that differentiates you and me?“
Kai-Fu Lee Quotes
- “The Chinese tradition is about excellence, dedication, and results.”
- “The great company shouldn’t just ask the users what they want but develop something that users will know they want when they see it but they could never come up with themselves.”
- “There’s a common belief that full freedom of speech and expression is correlated with creativity which is correlated with entrepreneurial success. I think empirically we’ve seen that is not true and China has been successful. That’s not to say the fundamental values aren’t right or not the best, but it is just that that perfect correlation isn’t there.”
Things Unique to the Chinese
Kai-Fu Lee thinks that centuries of the burden that China has gone through has given the people a tradition of facing difficult situations. Even in schools, Chinese students start with memorizing 10,000 characters. They also memorize works of historic philosophers, literature, and poetry. This strong rote memory mechanism ensures people have a good memory and remember things well. The new crop of young Chinese are now wanting to become rich and successful and the tradition is serving them well.
American vs Chinese Approach to AI
Kai-Fu Lee gives an insight into the predominant approach and working of the Americans and the Chinese. He puts forth his views while being aware that both the approaches have their benefits.
- The American approach is to try out new things, to solve most problems with technology, and have some error-tolerant ways of dealing with data.
- The Chinese approach is to spend a lot of time cleaning the data which might lead to better results. This approach might enable the Chinese to succeed with autonomous vehicles where more data leads to better results.
Silicon Valley Culture vs Chinese Entrepreneurial Culture
Kai-Fu Lee shows how Silicon Valley culture differs from the Chinese entrepreneurial culture and how he wishes Silicon Valley to be a little more open to jumping into existing markets to further its cultural development.
- The Silicon Valley culture is about dreaming big, having visionary goals, self-confidence, and a sense of self-entitlement wanting the world to use the products/services coming out of the valley.
- Silicon Valley also has the notion of not venturing into already ventured spaces because that is clearly a sign of not innovating.
- Meanwhile, the Chinese approach is all about doing whatever it takes to win. They have a winner-takes-it-all mentality and mixes that well with advantages in flexibility, speed, and execution. Silicon Valley can clearly take this lesson from the Chinese entrepreneurial environment.
Kai-Fu Lee also points out how Facebook has a lot of Chinese characteristics like bringing in new features of Snapchat without worrying too much about innovation.
Three Companies that have Chinese Characteristics
According to Kai-Fu Lee, the following three companies display Chinese entrepreneurial characteristics:
Evolution of Entrepreneurship in China
Kai-Fu Lee says that entrepreneurship in China has evolved in the last decade. The Chinese have progressed from the first stage of copying American companies to the second stage of creating better companies than existing American companies, and to the third stage of coming up with their own unique entrepreneurial ventures.
Giving examples of the second stage of the Chinese entrepreneurial development, Kai-Fu Lee says that WeChat is better than WhatsApp, Weibo is better than Twitter, and Zhihu is better than Quora.
Giving examples of the third stage of the Chinese entrepreneurial development, Kai-Fu Lee says that companies like Ant Financial (Finance), VIPKid (Education), TikTok (Social Network), Pindodo (Social E-commerce), and Mobike (Ride Sharing) have been unique ventures in their individual market segments.
Chinese Government’s Role in Entrepreneurial Development
Kai-Fu Lee says that the Chinese Government leaves the entrepreneurial segment to flourish and does not interfere much in it. However, it helps in entrepreneurial development by taking care of the infrastructure needs of the country.
The Chinese Government sees creating smart cities and smart roads as its responsibility. The individual cities compete amongst themselves to develop cities, hence helping in the entrepreneurial pursuits of its citizens. Kai-Fu Lee states that the Chinese wireless reception is better than wireless reception in the United States because it is the government that works on these infrastructures in China.
Jobs that will be automated
Kai-Fu Lee believes that the AI revolution will keep getting better and some routine jobs are bound to be automated in the future.
In the next 5-10 years, he says that 50 to 80 percent of the routine jobs will be automated. White-collar routine jobs will be more easily automated than blue-collar routine jobs. This is because only software is needed to replace white-collar routine jobs while there is robotics, mechanical excellence, and other things needed to replace blue-collar routine jobs.
The jobs that fall in the dangerous category are back-office jobs, telesales, telemarketing, customer service, fruit picking, inspection, etc.
Kai-Fu Lee thinks that with further advancement in AI, most drivers will be replaced in the next 15 to 20 years.
Jobs that cannot be automated
Kai-Fu Lee thinks that there are certain jobs that cannot be automated in the near future.
Jobs like discovering new drugs, a new style of painting, managing a company, employee satisfaction, etc. cannot be automated.
There are also a host of compassionate jobs that include elements of compassion, empathy, and the human touch that cannot be automated. Kai-Fu Lee says the jobs of a teacher, doctor, concierge, masseuse, bartender, etc. cannot be automated.
Cold War Mentality and Censorship
- According to Kai-Fu Lee, a Cold War mentality between countries will be dangerous.
- There must be some basic trust and communication established for bringing about engagement, interaction, and putting in place protocols to avoid disasters.
- Kai-Fu Lee notes that there is no perfect correlation to show that full freedom of speech is related to creativity and creativity to entrepreneurial success. He gives the example of China to state his claim. However, he says that he doesn’t think that the fundamental values aren’t right or not the best.
Advice to Aspiring Tech/AI Entrepreneurs
Kai-Fu Lee advises aspiring entrepreneurs in technology and artificial intelligence to think in advance about their business plan, customers, and the marketplace.
He says that the tech waves move quickly and that aspiring entrepreneurs should have answers to questions like,
- What pain are you trying to address?
- How does that translate into value?
- How will you extract value and get paid through what channel?
- How much business value will be created?
- Artificial Intelligence was initially the pursuit of Human Intelligence which has taken a turn into Machine Intelligence.
- If Kai-Fu Lee gets to ask one question to an Artificial General Intelligence, his question will be, “What is that that differentiates you and me?”