Tech’s Chinese Future

There is a lot going around the rhetorical of who is going to lead the next tech era, is it the US or China? (there is no Europe in this discussion). One of the balanced opinions on the matter is this post. It was tweeted earlier by Andrew Ng.

The tl;dr version is that AI research in China is mostly driven by a pressuring consumer need for AI powered solutions. For example typing Chinese on mobile is very hard, which drove companies to do research on alternative input methods such as voice. Another example mentions Chinese need to consume non Chinese content, which also drives innovation in machine translation.

China excels in certain aspects of AI in part because there’s a confluence of cultural, technological, economic and geographic market forces that make those aspects a higher priority in China.


I take that not as fear that China will come to dominate the AI arena and thus the world, but rather that Chinese companies are serving their consumers with cool products, and U.S. companies need to do the same—only with products that U.S. consumers actually want.

One thought I had recently was to learn Chinese*. There is no doubt in a not so far future, there will be huge interest in that part of the world and what it provides for tech. People who are able to understand what’s going on there will be of great value, since capital follows opportunities.

However, a counter-thought I also have is that China is a closed system, they have over a billion people, which gives them the ability to be self sufficient and not needing outsiders as much as US and Europe do. They are also a communist country, which while we always think of as a bad thing, but it has some benefits. They can get as many people as they want into computer science**, they can make programming mandatory in schools, and they can do it faster than their US counterparts***.

I believe China will be a big power player in the tech world, I am curious to see how this transformation will impact the west. Will everyone learn Chinese and try to go there, or the west to China will be like the middle east for tech giants, only used to market and sell whatever the dragon builds.

* Says the man who is 10 months in Germany and can’t finish a full sentence in German.

** Trust me on this one, I am from a country that decides how many people can get into engineering, medicine, and every other field. Communist/socialist/authoritarian systems can control the supply, and hence the demand for universities.

*** This argument isn’t new and doesn’t only apply to tech, for example think of the benefits of a social democracy (Europe) or a communist government on providing more inclusive healthcare compared to the US.