Three Reasons You Should Not Worry
Will China Dominate Artificial Intelligence?
There are certain ways of thinking I don’t admire. One is the fallacy that everything we do in Taiwan must be compared with China. The other is something I’ve been hearing a lot lately at forums and conferences related to artificial intelligence.
Will China Dominate Artificial Intelligence?By Jamie Lin
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 661 )
The thinking goes: the Chinese A.I. industry is growing so fast in such a giant market, and the Chinese government and venture capitalists are so invested in it, and the Chinese society is so desensitized to intrusions into their privacy…that when it comes to developing artificial intelligence, China holds all the trump cards, and Taiwan can only concede defeat.
What an amusing non sequitur this is. It shows the Kuomintang brought their backwards attitude that “everything we do must be compared with China” with them to Taiwan, and it is poisoning our well of ideas to this very day.
In truth, Taiwan’s development of A.I. is not hindered in the least by China. Here are three reasons why.
Number one, the development of A.I. requires data pipelines. If the Chinese A.I. industry wanted to develop data pipelines in Taiwan, they would have to scale a virtual great wall to enter the Taiwanese digital ecosystem, which is filled with global internet platforms banned in China: Google, Facebook, and Line, to list a few. They would then have to come up with software services or hardware solutions that Taiwanese customers would want to use.
This is an incredibly daunting task. Setting aside all the innovations that’d be needed to convert the Taiwanese market, the current Chinese internet powerhouses—Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent, collectively known as “BAT”—have been hammering away at us for the last ten years to no avail. (Read: Baidu's Plan to Break Into the Japanese Market)
In contrast, a native A.I. company would enjoy all the home field advantages, from their understanding of the ecosystem to their grasp of Taiwanese customers’ preferences. (Read: Crypto Is Libertarian, A.I. Is Communist)
Number two, artificial intelligence is akin to an idiot savant who excels only in limited tasks. As far as we can predict, A.I. development in the next fifty years or so will be limited to narrow, specialized fields. In other words, a cat-sitting A.I. won’t be able to take care of canines. An A.I. chauffeur won’t know how to drive a lorry.
Artificial intelligence developed in China would become blathering idiots if they tried to cross the Taiwan Strait—the learning barrier is simply insurmountable.
Number three, on the flip side of the coin, Taiwanese A.I. companies can also scrap their plans of conquering China. The virtual great wall blocks both sides. We would have just as hard a time in their market as they would in ours. And in fact this is true for any digital company in the world that wants a piece of China. (Read: Meet China's Five Biggest AI Companies)
Fortunately, the Chinese population is just 1.4 billion out of the 7 billion people on Earth. Digital ecosystems in many other countries evolved around Google and Facebook, much like ours did. Taiwanese A.I. companies have a better chance in those markets than even our rich and powerful Chinese competitors.
Especially in Southeast Asian nations with growing populations, economies, and incomes, Taiwan has a chance to achieve phenomenal success.
China’s artificial intelligence industry holds power in the same way their most popular actress Fan Bingbing enjoys being a superstar. Outside of China, her star dims demonstrably. We have our own stars in Taiwan: Lin Chi-ling, Gwei Lun-mei, the rock band Mayday. A.I. will be our next superstar if we are willing to invest in it.
Translated by Jack C.
Edited by Tomas Lin
About the Author
Jamie Lin, founding partner of startup accelerator AppWorks, and Chairman of Taiwan Internet and E-commerce Association (TiEA).