This is a great book. It not only provides a history of AI both in the USA and China. Kai-Fu Lee also provides a history of AI’s both in the USA and China, and also includes an in-depth analysis between China and the US’s approach to AI’s. He also discusses pros and cons of their abilities, engineering and politics.

The book offers a fascinating look at the rise of the Chinese tech environment, why it is radically different from Silicon Valley, and why it may well ended up dominating the latter over the next couple of decades.

Lee Kai-Fu compared and contrasts tech entrepreneurs from the USA [Silicon Valley] and China. Lee Kai-Fu is an amazing venture capitalist and an amazing human being. He used to head Google China and is a lymphoma survivor.

This book has 2 parts:

Part 1: For AI to succeed, it needs persistent entrepreneurs, AI researchers, capital and lots of data. Lee posited that China’s apps involved the whole service chain, from the mobile phone, to the main goods/service provider to the delivery person.

Silicon Valley prefers to code the clean part, that is, the app part but leaves other companies to do the ground work. This provides a lot of data and AI thrives on data.

Chinese entrepreneurs are also ultra competitive, as whatever is new is quickly copied. Companies therefore need to constantly evolve to keep their clients.

The Chinese government also is heavily involved in opening up technology towns with tax incentives to lure the entrepreneurs and capitalists to go. He thinks that China is going to become the AI superpower.

Part 2: The second part of the book is a different book altogether, almost as if written by another author. The style and subject matter was totally different. In his part, Dr Lee gets personal.

In this part Dr Lee shared how his life view has changed after he survived his lymphoma. He realised that he had been neglecting his family and vowed to spend a lot more time with them.

He also understand how humans can be better than AI machines: our humanity itself. He is convinced that very soon AI will replace a lot of human jobs. Massive unemployment would soon create a new underclass who would feel useless.

He suggested that we should have universal basic income but require people who receive them to be volunteers to counsel, teach and guide others.

It was when I was reading part 2 of the book that I realized: wait a minute, this is the guy who gave one of my favourite TED talks titled: Can AI save our humanity?



This is an amazing book, I recommend it to all entrepreneurs, it’s a must read for tech entrepreneurs.

A super-important read if you want to get a quick overview into the AI race as it stands. “Eye-opening” is an understatement.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. At the moment it is the best book I have read on what’s happening in the realm of AI.

It is a strong contender for my book of the year for 2019.

Favourite quotes

  • “By the end of 2017, 65 percent of China’s over 753 million smartphone users had enabled mobile payments.”
  • “Based on the current trends in technology advancement and adoption, I predict that within fifteen years, artificial intelligence will technically be able to replace around 40 to 50 percent of jobs in the United States.”
  • “AI will do the analytical thinking, while humans will wrap that analysis in warmth and compassion.”
  • “The AI-equipped floors of your elderly parents will alert you immediately if they’ve tripped and fallen.”
  • “Behind these efforts lies a core difference in American and Chinese political culture: while America’s combative political system aggressively punishes missteps or waste in funding technological upgrades, China’s techno-utilitarian approach rewards proactive investment and adoption.”
  • “If AI ever allows us to truly understand ourselves, it will not be because these algorithms captured the mechanical essence of the human mind. It will be because they liberated us to forget about optimizations and to instead focus on what truly makes us human.”
  • “Of the hundreds of companies pouring resources into AI research, let’s return to the seven that have emerged as the new giants of corporate AI research—Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent.”
  • “Instead of being mission-driven, Chinese companies are first and foremost market-driven. Their ultimate goal is to make money, and they’re willing to create any product, adopt any model, or go into any business that will accomplish that objective.”
  • “China lagged years, if not decades, behind the United States in artificial intelligence. But over the past three years China has caught AI fever, experiencing a surge of excitement about the field that dwarfs even what we see in the rest of the world. Enthusiasm about AI has spilled over from the technology and business communities into government policymaking, and it has trickled all the way down to kindergarten classrooms in Beijing.”
  • “How should an autonomous vehicle’s algorithm weigh the life of its owner? Should your self-driving car sacrifice your own life to save the lives of three other people?”
  • “China has already vaulted far ahead of the United States as the world’s largest producer of digital data,”


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