How AI Can Save Our Humanity: Kai-Fu Lee (Transcript)

Kai-Fu Lee


I’m going to talk about how AI and mankind can coexist, but first, we have to rethink about our human values.

So let me first make a confession about my errors in my values.

It was 11 o’clock, December 16, 1991. I was about to become a father for the first time. My wife, Shen-Ling, lay in the hospital bed going through a very difficult 12-hour labor. I sat by her bedside but looked anxiously at my watch, and I knew something that she didn’t I knew that if in one hour, our child didn’t come, I was going to leave her there and go back to work and make a presentation about AI to my boss, Apple’s CEO.

Fortunately, my daughter was born at 11:30 sparing me from doing the unthinkable, and to this day, I am so sorry for letting my work ethic take precedence over love for my family.

My AI talk, however, went off brilliantly. Apple loved my work and decided to announce it at TED1992, 26 years ago on this very stage I thought I had made one of the biggest, most important discoveries in AI, and so did the “Wall Street Journal” on the following day.

But as far as discoveries went, it turned out, I didn’t discover India, or America. Perhaps I discovered a little island off of Portugal. But the AI era of discovery continued, and more scientists poured their souls into it.

About 10 years ago, the grand AI discovery was made by three North American scientists, and it’s known as deep learning. Deep learning is a technology that can take a huge amount of data within one single domain and learn to predict or decide at superhuman accuracy.

For example, if we show the deep learning network a massive number of food photos, it can recognize food such as hot dog or no hot dog.

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Or if we show it many pictures and videos and sensor data from driving on the highway, it can actually drive a car as well as a human being on the highway. And what if we showed this deep learning network all the speeches made by President Trump? Then this artificially intelligent President Trump, actually the network can — You like double oxymorons, huh?

So this network, if given the request to make a speech about AI, he, or it, might say —

(Recording) Donald Trump: It’s a great thing to build a better world with artificial intelligence.

Kai-Fu Lee: And maybe in another language?

Donald Trump: (Speaking Chinese)

Kai-Fu Lee: You didn’t know he knew Chinese, did you? So deep learning has become the core in the era of AI discovery, and that’s led by the US. But we’re now in the era of implementation, where what really matters is execution, product quality, speed and data. And that’s where China comes in.

Chinese entrepreneurs, who I fund as a venture capitalist, are incredible workers, amazing work ethic. My example in the delivery room is nothing compared to how hard people work in China. As an example, one startup tried to claim work-life balance: “Come work for us because we are 996.” And what does that mean? It means the work hours of 9am to 9pm, six days a week. That’s contrasted with other startups that do 997.

And the Chinese product quality has consistently gone up in the past decade, and that’s because of a fiercely competitive environment. In Silicon Valley, entrepreneurs compete in a very gentlemanly fashion, sort of like in old wars in which each side took turns to fire at each other.

But in the Chinese environment, it’s truly a gladiatorial fight to the death. In such a brutal environment, entrepreneurs learn to grow very rapidly, they learn to make their products better at lightning speed, and they learn to hone their business models until they’re impregnable. As a result, great Chinese products like WeChat and Weibo are arguably better than the equivalent American products from Facebook and Twitter.

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