Kaifu Lee arguably knows the most about China’s tech landscape. The former Microsoft and Google China executive is now an active opinion leader who gives insights into tech trends and entrepreneurship in the country.
Lee, more widely known as the founder of accelerator/VC Sinovation Ventures now, has been unreserved in expressing bullish views on the AI industry, while a group of world’s top scientists, including Stephen Hawking, are adopting a more ominous approach to the technology.
“The most important area for future Sinovation Ventures investment will be artificial intelligence,” as he disclosed at TechCrunch Beijing last year.
Coming from a technical background, Lee has a lot to say about the ongoing craze surround AI and he put his understanding about the industry into his latest book, Artificial Intelligence. In an interview with Sina Tech (in Chinese), Lee explained his views on how we should fend off the increasing challenges from AI.
Tips for the youth
Compared with killer robots that could endanger our lives, job replacement is a more imminent issue brought by AI. This dynamic is already underway and part of the world is feeling it. People losing jobs to robots would become a greater issue in the future, and young people would be the first group to be affected.
Lee’s advice for university students is to dig deeper into your studies to an extent that AI can’t replace your work. He also believes cross-disciplinary research will become the next trend. “AI enjoys unparalleled advantages in big data accumulation in a singular sector, but people could outperform when it comes to cross-disciplinary studies,” he says. “For example, there will be lots of innovation opportunity and startup prospects at the cross-sections among finance, sociology, philosophy, and education.”
He noted that art students may embrace more opportunities in the new era because art and beauty are very hard to replicate with AI. Service industry may also receive a boost, he added.
Tips for traditional enterprises
As an advocate of AI technology, the influential technologist called it “the singular thing that will be larger than all of the human tech revolutions added together, including electricity, [the] industrial revolution, the internet, mobile internet — because AI is pervasive.”
In the fullest belief of AI’s powers to change our world, he suggests traditional enterprises shift to a “back to zero” mindset because the disruptions brought by AI would easily leapfrog over the advantages of older companies.
“For example, brokers, bankers, and insurance companies may be not ready to integrate AI into their products,” he said. “Because the DNA and culture of the industry, past success, and existing profits have become huge burdens for them to move on. Just like Kodak. They knew the age of digital cameras was coming, but the firm can not escape the vicious cycle.”
Tips for VCs
A majority of business application cases in AI industry fall into two models: 2B or 2C. Lee thinks both of them are going to work, but he believes there are more opportunities in the former at present because enterprise applications of AI would generate values faster, especially in banking, insurance, brokerage and the secondary trading market.
For the time being, consumer-facing services would encounter more obstacles because AI isn’t an application. “Although BAT has put their AI technologies in consumer-facing services, that’s because they have a huge user base, big data and commercialization capabilities support that,” he says. “For a startup without traffic sources, there’s no big data to speak of. So it’s more difficult for To C startups to get started.”
Tips for AI talents
By setting up Sinovation Ventures AI Institute, Lee is trying to duplicate the talent training model that he’s experienced with after working for Microsoft Research Asia and Google China.
He also calls for Chinese researchers working overseas to come back to their homeland. Talents originally from China are working in the U.S. because there are more opportunities for global training and career development. These perks that once helped make U.S. preferred employers are becoming less attractive to Chinese professionals with the arrival of AI trend and rising demands for big data. AI is luring more Google, Microsoft and Amazon-trained engineers to come back to China, he emphasized.
Although we are not sure whether China’s going to dominate the AI, but it’s sure a place where we can expect more innovations.
Editor’s note: The translations above are our own.