China’s Kai-fu Lee on Why the U.S. Could Fall Behind in AI

One of the best-known Chinese tech investors, Kai-fu Lee, predicts that AI-driven advances like self-driving cars will be widely deployed in China before the U.S., thanks to more welcoming government regulators and greater social acceptance. And because machines learn by getting exposure to more and more examples, if they’re used first in China, they’ll get better there, too, he says.

“In autonomous vehicles China still trails by at least two to three years,” Mr. Lee said in an interview with The Information. “But I would project that leadership may very well go away in the next five years. Because I think the Americans, as well as the American government, will be more caught up in the legal and moral ramifications of these vehicles. So the question is which government will allow autonomous vehicles on the road first.”

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That doesn’t mean foreigners will be completely shut out. “I think Yuri Milner still gets to pick a couple of top deals,” Mr. Lee said. “There’s a smaller pool for him to pick from but considering the types of companies he likes to invest in, I think he’ll still be able to invest.”

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“In the U.S., there are 1.2 million truckers and one could easily imagine many of them who voted for Mr. Trump, a lobby could deter the deployment of autonomous trucks. Whereas in China, that may not happen.”