The Era of Artificial Intelligence – Dr. Kai-Fu Lee @ MIT

The “Oracle” of AI

I had a chance to meet and listen to Dr. Kai-Fu Lee at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Dr. Lee is one of the world’s most respected experts on Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies.  It was a tremendous experience to have met him briefly at his book signing and listen to his thoughts on AI today, China, the United States and the future of AI.  His lecture was part of the Distinguished Lecture Series through the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and touched on many topics in his latest New York Time Best Selling book entitled, AI Super-Powers, China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order.

I had never met Dr. Lee, however, I knew his name from working at voice recognition software firm Gold Systems in the early 2000s in Boulder, Colorado.  Founded by visionary entrepreneur Terry Gold, Gold Systems was one of the first Microsoft Speech Server partners in the world.  Around this same time, Dr. Lee was a Corporate Vice President at Microsoft to lead its user interface, speech, natural language and assistance technologies.  Therefore, Dr. Lee and the executives from Gold System’s paths crossed in Redmond, Washington from time to time.  Dr. Lee’s career continued to skyrocket after Microsoft as he went on to head up Google China and later start China based Venture Capital fund, Sinovation Ventures.

AI technology is now moving from the age of discovery to opportunity disrupting all industries.  As a recent press release by research firm Tractica states, it’s a massive, fast growing industry.  Enterprise AI revenue will reach $107.3 Billion worldwide by 2025

Dr. Lee began his lecture with a short video clip of himself on the Good Morning America Show with Joan London back on March 2, 1992.  He was at Apple Computers at the time and told a funny story when he and then CEO, John Sculley, were doing a live demo of speech to text on national television.  Remember, this is 1992 🙂  It’s amazing how far speech recognition technology has come with Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa, IBM’s Watson and Google’s Assistant.

His lecture mainly kept in line with the main themes of his book with funny and interesting stories weaved throughout which I recommend reading by the way.  The audience consisted of MIT students, professors and industry professionals in the standing room only, 300 person auditorium.

There is more than enough information out on the Internet on Dr. Lee for you to do your own research on his views.  I also included some video resources at the bottom.  I’ll touch on a few highlights from his lecture that stuck with me.

AI Trends

  • Mobile payments are huge in China and ahead of the United States in this category.  He explained the rise of the middle class in China and their prolific use of mobile phones in everyday life.  This use has led to the traditional banks being leapfrogged by the mobile app companies themselves. Companies such as Wechat have become the bank.  Huge implications when we are talking about 1.3 billion people.
  • Deep Fake is one of the greatest challenges the world will face to date with AI technology.  This is indeed some scary technology and one that has potential to wreak havoc on society

Examples of AI solutions invested in by Sinovation Ventures

  • Mobile payments – AI used for giving credit/loans
  • Logististics/Picking technology – AI used to reduce the cost of e-commerce
  • Autonomous vehicles (taxis) – AI used today in certain cities in China
  • Healthcare and Education – AI used for good

  • Dr. Lee is a big believer that “there is no data like more data”.  In fact, he stated “more data is more important than the algorithm”.

AI Challenges

  • Privacy: combat technology with privacy mis-use with technology.  There is always a trade off between more personalization and less privacy.
  • Security: touched on autonomous weapons and the dangers with this technology
  • AI displacement of jobs: warned that repetitive, routing, optimizing  jobs are not safe and will be replaced by AI.  He stated that complex and creative jobs are safe.

What can governments do about job displacements?

  • Inequality: Not every country can afford Universal Basic Income policies
  • What other countries can do?
    • Invest in STEM education
    • Send best students to train up on AI

In summary, Dr. Lee’s lecture was enlightening and educational.  He stated, “AI is like electricity and will create tremendous wealth” for those that harness its power, however it will have negative side effects that society will have to figure out.   AI technology is now moving from the age of discovery to opportunity disrupting all industries.  As a recent press release by research firm Tractica states, it’s a massive, fast growing industry.  Enterprise AI revenue will reach $107.3 Billion worldwide by 2025, as businesses move from trials to deployments.  If you are in the business of AI or just curious to learn more about the technology or Dr. Lee himself, I encourage you to check out the additional resources below.


Dave Colliver

Director of Research

CTG Insights