The trade dispute between China and the US is getting louder. But what is decisive and who will master future technology and make better use of it.


Kai-fu Lee enters his supermarket. Hello, Kai-fu, the shopping cart greets him, he has barely touched the cart. A small camera in the grip has recognized him immediately, the built-in computer knows what was last delivered to the home and what he likes to cook on Saturdays. He is guided precisely to the shelves where the goods are waiting for him.

Kai-fu Lee is the right person in the picture at the top. We symbolize what Lee has been doing for many years: research on an intelligence that can beat or even replace humans.

56-year-old Lee was born in Taiwan, trained as an IT expert in the US, then became the Google CEO in Beijing, and now has founded companies that turn Artificial Intelligence (AI) research results into products. And Lee just wrote a book: ” AI Super Powers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order.”

Intelligence Of Machine

The book takes a surprising turn, which is triggered by Lees’s cancer five years ago. The Book’s all about the state and future of artificial intelligence, as it is called in German, short AI – and the competition, which is held according to his findings only between the US and China, where he sees the Chinese clearly in the advantage.

The example of the shopping cart, which knows everything, is the third level of AI for Lee, where it can perceive our behavior via networked data. That will be reached soon. The first stage, the “AI on the Internet”, has been with us for a long time. There is already a lot of knowledge stored and available. The second – “Business AI “, means the networking of data, which is already massively used by companies. After using it as in the supermarket- “Perception AI ” – comes the “Autonomous AI ” – networked machines learn from each other and interact with each other, without human intervention. Self-driving cars are only the beginning, in the future, the algorithms will make decisions for us because they will know us and our wishes better. The algorithms may also restrict our horizon, which will also be an issue.

Competition Between China – USA

So the superpowers of the AI are Silicon Valley and China. And since world powers are always concerned about the rivalry, the question arises: Who will be the winner? Lee describes in his book China’s “Sputnik Moment”.

Just as the US was startled in October 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite into space, many Chinese were shocked when, in May 2017, a Google computer first struck the best player in the board game. Now it was clear for Beijing, that it needed to invest more in AI research. The most important thing about the experiment was that the computer was based on “deep learning”, which is, for the creation of artificial neural networks similar to the human brain.

This area has been researched since the 1950’s, but there was something crucial to it: the availability of an infinite amount of data. Right here, Lee already sees the first advantage for China. Data is not only available in much larger numbers, but they also include daily life: The app WeChat is not only for chatting, but it can also be used for payment from the mobile phone, even for the street vendor, it can also arrange appointments with doctors, pay bicycles rent charges. All data is permanently networked. Data protection? The surveillance of the people is already completed.

China Benefits More

The availability of the data already gives the Chinese a head start, because they already plan the implementation in real life and matching companies when developing apps.

The accountant PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimates that the AI will increase global gross national product by $15.7 trillion by 2030. Half of it will go to China, only a quarter to the US. At the same time, more jobs will be lost in the US than in China, which is not yet industrialized everywhere.

And what about the rest of the world?” Britain, France, and Canada have strong AI research teams,” writes Lee, “but these countries lack, venture capital, Investors and a large number of data.”

Future Indian Market

At this point the mention of a conversation with Hannes Androsch is interesting. The co-owner of the world’s leading PCB manufacturer AT&S produces both in China and in India. One should not forget India, for Androsch “the elephant in the shadow of the dragon.”

The number of smartphone users will increase from 250 million to 800 by 2025, India has countless, well-trained IT experts and the economy continues to grow, while China is warned about the high level of debt, and India is a democracy. How China will develop politically with the very power-conscious, unrestricted-time must be watched.

Linz Is Also Involved In Research

And Europe? A futurologist recently said that the biggest killer in hospitals is privacy. The health data is not networked so well that the doctors could learn from it for the patients.

But at least: In research at the top of the world, there is a professor from Bavaria, who heads the “Institute for Artificial Intelligence” in Linz. Sepp Hochreiter has just dedicated a large portrait to Die Zeit. Hochreiter was one of the first to work on the basic technology for the recognition of manuscripts, speech or faces. His goal: “We want an intelligence to understand everything and solve every problem. It is not man who thinks up something new, but the system. The AI researcher will be replaced by a neural network.”

The Wake Up Call Cancer

This leads back to Kai-fu Lee. The last paragraph of his book reads: “Machines should remain machines, and let humans remain people. Let’s choose to use our machines, and more importantly, love each other.”

That sounds like a Hollywood ending, backed by softly whining violins. Lee’s emphasis on love, which even the best of human-like robots will never be able to do, has something to do with his cancer of the blood. “I’ve stopped seeing my life as an algorithm that optimizes my scope.” His life spent between two systems may have led him to see AI as an opportunity. He wants China, the US, but also other countries to benefit from artificial intelligence altogether. And also to clarify together what a life with less work looks like and is fanciable.

The political signs are different at the moment. The British Economist speaks of the
“dangerous rivalry” between China and the United States. But maybe machines can show us, humans, how to get along better. Then it could be a common race of super brains for better living conditions for all.