To develop artificial intelligence, get it out of the lab: VC

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Zhou Wei, founder of China Creation Ventures at TechCrunch in Shenzhen on November 11, 2019 (Image credit: TechCrunch)

“China’s artificial intelligence (AI) is like a kid with an IQ of 120. The US’ is a child with an IQ of 140. But in the US, the kid hasn’t left the laboratory,” according to Zhou Wei, founder and managing partner of China Creation Ventures.

Zhou said that China’s AI industry could overtake that of the US given the country’s move toward mass implementation of the technology and the fast rates of business model iteration.

“In the long run, the Chinese kid could outpace the US child,” he said during a fireside chat at TechCrunch Shenzhen 2019 on Monday.

Zhou’s comments come in the midst of a protracted US-China trade war, in which several high profile Chinese AI companies have been caught in the crosshairs.

The world’s most valuable AI startup Sensetime, as well as surveillance equipment maker Hikvision and speech recognition firm iFlytek, among others, were placed on a US trade blacklist last month for their alleged complicity in human rights violations in China.

Zhou’s sentiments echo those of Chinese AI expert and founder of Sinovation Ventures, Kai-fu Lee, who claimed previously that China mass-implementation of AI, access to data, and size of China’s internet population could put the country at the forefront of the technology’s development.

“Business models in China are iterated quickly, while Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors want to come up with a product that is perfect and doesn’t have too many problems,” Zhou said.

AI applications permeate every aspect of life in China, where it used from everything from facilitating facial recognition payments to keeping tabs on the country’s population and assessing potential risks related to loans.

The country has also become a haven for data production as internet users’ daily lives move online. For example, mobility services including bike-sharing and ride-hailing generate gargantuan amounts of data that can be used for training an AI. China’s biggest ride-hailing platform Didi recently released a transit dataset to help researchers in a push to better understand transport patterns and optimize infrastructure investments.

Nevertheless, China faces the prospect of a major brain drain, according to MacroPolo, a China-focused think tank at the Paulson Institute in Chicago. Around three-quarters of the country’s AI talent is currently located outside of China, the research body found for its analysis of submissions to the NeurIPS conference.

Speed is a requirement for companies in China, said Zhou, adding that whoever is fastest will be the winner. “China’s consumers are tolerant of new projects and also impatient,” he said.

Zhou noted that this fast aspect has also become a problem for venture capital firms, who can struggle to keep up. “We’re really under a lot of pressure to learn quickly and to be very focused,” he added.