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June 22, 2017

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Taiwan lacks soft skills, cannot depend on AI to start business: Kai-fu Lee

Back in early April, Kai-fu Lee (李開復) participated in China's "Texas Holdem Against Robots Tournament," in which he created his "Kai-Fu Lee Team" with the slogan of "losing less."

According to Lee, "humans do things based on rules, but AI does not. Its strategy is deeply undiscernible, unexplainable. Like how AlphaGo can become a chess master, playing against the Texas Holdem AI makes it difficult to know which hand to play." Of course, Lee ultimately lost the game.

"AI will completely disrupt all industries, with an influence that is greater than the industrial or the internet revolution," Lee said, adding that "I think we have a responsibility to let people understand that AI is a great but scary being."

Lee started engaging in the research of artificial intelligence back in the 1980s. Starting from his doctoral studies to his time at Microsoft, Apple, and Google, Lee dabbled in technology in the fields of speech recognition, algorithms, deep learning, and artificial neural network. In the past two to three years, Sinovation Ventures has invested up to US$130 million in some 40 AI startups that specialize in driverless cars, facial recognition technology and financial technology.

Some of the most well-known AI companies that Sinovation Ventures has invested in include China's UISEE, megvii, and the Stans Group. Lee stated that the facial recognition technology developed by megvii "can simultaneously differentiate amongst 500,000 faces with a rate of error lower than that of human beings and an applicability in customs and border patrol, security, businesses, and retail." According to Lee, the company should be worth billions of U.S. dollars.

Stans Group's most famous product is its "yongqianbao" application, which uses a user's credit history and personal information to determine whether to lend money or not. Lee stated that the app not only has a lower bad debt rate than banks, but also that in one month it can complete 1.5 million loan applications. "If this were a typical bank, how many people would it take do look through all these applications?" This proves that the data review jobs in banks in the future will be replaced by AI.

UISEE is in the business of producing driverless cars and is one of the few companies that has the audiovisual, chip, and control system needed for the driverless technology. Its first prototype was displayed at this year's CES.

A majority of the companies Lee invests in are Chinese. When asked about his thoughts on Taiwanese companies, he sighed. Lee said that the current Taiwanese regulations and market did not have the prerequisite conditions for the development of AI, saying that "Taiwan has no chance!"

According to Lee, "Taiwan misses out on the four waves of revolution: software, internet, search engine, and social media. The way of thinking of Taiwanese banks are antiquated, and regulations have fallen behind. There is no technique, funding, application, sandbox, or the venture capitalists who can distinguish a good business opportunity and invest, much less big data or a market to drive AI development."

Lee noted that while Taiwan had a hardware advantage during the PC age, it had fallen behind China and the U.S. in the age of AI which incorporates both hardware and software.

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