Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Beijing, China (4E) – Taiwan-born Kai-Fu Lee, arguably China’s leading venture capitalist in artificial intelligence (AI), claims China is now ahead of the United States in certain AI fields and might soon even dominate this key future technology.
“China is catching up “really fast,” said Lee, who also noted that China’s “magical ascent” in AI has taken only two years. He noted China came way behind, but China is now actually ahead of the U.S. in AI implementation.
We should think of AI as electricity, said this summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University. He pointed out that Thomas Edison (the inventor of electricity) and American AI deep learning experts invented AI and then generously shared it with the world, much to China’s delight and advantage. This shortcut means China’s AI scientists didn’t have to start from scratch, unlike the Americans.
China will lead AI because China has a huge population. It’s as simple as that. Ai is about having masses of data and because it’s the world’s largest marketplace, China has the largest amount of data. The country will use AI to find all the ways to add value to traditional businesses; the internet and all kinds of spaces, said Lee.
Another advantage is that Chinese entrepreneurial ecosystem is massive. This means today’s most valuable AI companies in computer vision, speech recognition and drones are all Chinese companies.
Lee said Chinese AI firms generate more sales, again because of a massive market. Size also means that China accounts for nearly half of all VC investments and 43 percent of all AI startups.
Lee has long recognized the immense economic and financial value of AI and in 2009 founded the company now known as Sinovation Ventures. Sinovation’s original aim was to establish five successful Chinese start-ups a year in the internet and mobile internet businesses, or in cloud computing.
The start-ups Sinovision has funded, and which are now billion dollar AI firms, are cryptocurrency firm Bitmain; image recognition outfit Megvii; fintech-focused 4th Paradigm; self-driving AI company Momenta and chip developer, Horizon Robotics. These five AI firms are valued at over $1 billion.
He said these firms were founded between two and four years ago. He noted that this is really how fast it’s been. “You have to be there to see the excitement and the pace.”
Sinovation’s total assets under management amount to $2 billion. It’s also invested in over 300 portfolios, mostly in China.
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