more meaningful conversations. Making advances in language could have countless practical applications, from better document analysis and search to much smarter personal
assistants. “The challenge, and also the opportunity, will be in
natural language,” Zhang says.
It might be unnerving for Western nations to see a newcomer
mastering an important technology, especially when the full
potential of that technology remains uncertain. But it is wrong
to view this story simply in terms of competition with the West.
A big problem facing both the U.S. and China is slowing economic growth. While AI may eliminate certain jobs, it also has
the potential to greatly expand the economy and create wealth
by making many industries far more efficient and productive.
China has embraced that simple fact more eagerly and more
completely than many Western nations. But there’s no reason
why China’s AI-fueled economic progress should come at the
expense of other countries, if those countries embrace the same
technology just as keenly.
China might have unparalleled resources and enormous untapped potential, but the West has world-leading
expertise and a strong research culture. Rather than
worry about China’s progress, it would be wise for Western
nations to focus on their existing strengths, investing heavily in research and education. The risk is missing out on an
incredibly important technological shift. Yes, companies
like Google and Facebook are making important strides in
AI today, but this isn’t enough to reboot a whole economy.
Despite the fanfare around AI, there are few economic
signs—such as increased productivity—that most of the
economy is taking advantage of the technology yet. Large
segments of the economy beyond Silicon Valley, like medicine, service industries, and manufacturing, also need to
I can’t help thinking of the poker tournament in Hainan
and reflecting that the rest of the world should take inspiration from Lengpudashi, the poker-playing AI. It’s time to follow China’s lead and go all in on artificial intelligence.
Will Knight is MIT Technology Review’s senior editor covering AI.
The headquarters of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is in Hangzhou.