Editor’s note: China and the U.S. are widely believed to be at the forefront of and, by some account, in a race to dominate the global AI revolution. Richard Turrin, the author of the best-selling “Innovation Lab Excellence”, who previously headed IBM’s Fintech Innovation Lab in Singapore and IBM’s banking risk technology team in China after a 20-year career in banking, shares his views on the dynamics of the global AI industry and the role both China and the U.S. are playing in this highly contested sector. The opinions expressed in this video are his, and not necessarily those of CGTN.
CGTN: What’s your take on the claim that China’s leading AI companies are merely copycats of their American counterparts?
Turrin: It’s necessary for people in the United States or the West who comes up with a statement like this to know that looking at Google, Amazon and Facebook today, and looking at a screen capture of what they looked like 10 years ago, it’s easy to find that they’re very similar.
But if you look at what Alibaba can do, or what WeChat can do in a decade, the advancement of these apps to be super apps, to be things that do far more than they once did, and are now far surpassing the Western internet companies and what they can do. It’s really quite remarkable.
Anybody who comes out with a statement like that has never really used any of these apps and obviously never lived in China.
CGTN: What drives a negative outlook about China in the Western think tanks and media?
Turrin: There are two conflicting views. The kind answer is that many people in the West may have come to China once in their life, it may have been 10 years ago. They think about the changes in their current world, whether that’s a European or U.S.-based world, and they think that a decade has passed, and things change, but they don’t think change that much.
It is inconceivable, unless you are living in China, to understand the changes that a decade has brought within this country. It is just beyond human’s ability to imagine. Now, that’s the kind answer.
The unkind answer is that if people from the West really embrace and look at China’s innovation, it makes them fundamentally uncomfortable. Therefore, it is easier to say China is not innovative as a means of saving face and as a means of explaining that everything is fine in the West and you don’t have to worry.
I apologize if these are nicer reasons and not nice reasons. To me, the concept that you take a society and tell it everything is going to be fine and that we have a technological lead when that lead is, in fact, being lost is a problem.
That’s something that we really have to be aware of in the West and to head off, grab and embrace change, and embrace the fact that we have to do more with innovation rather than diminish the efforts of China which is, by all measure in any measure, extremely innovative.
CGTN: What in your opinion are the factors behind China’s success in technology and innovation?
Turrin: Behind the success is a relentless realization, by both government and large digital companies, that digitization of China is the path to success in the future. Now, what are the examples of what this has done for us? Take financial technology as an example. It is not only the area that I work in, but it is probably one of the better examples of innovative technology because no one in the world has gone essentially cash free as we have in China.
China has two major apps, WeChat pay and Alipay, which make Chinese live in essentially a cash-free world. In the West, people look at the cashless dream; they look at science fiction movies to get that dream. But China has attained that.
Interviewer: Abhishek G Bhaya