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'The future will be won or lost on this technology. I'm very concerned': The founder of a $9 billion company warns that China is on track to dominate the US in AI


ThoughtSpot Ajeet Singh

  • Investors and entrepreneurs say that the US may soon fall behind in the race to build better artificial intelligence.
  • While many agree that the US was a leader in the technology's development, in recent years, the tables have turned: many say that China's tech could surpass the US's in five years or less. 

Artificial Intelligence is a complex and evolving technology. And whichever country masters it first will own "the black box of the future." 

That's how Ajeet Singh, founder of analytics software company ThoughtSpot, thinks about AI, which is expected to  play an increasingly important role in everyday life in the coming years.

"AI is the world's next big inflection point," says Singh. "It will hugely impact human productivity, the creation of drugs, the future of education and medicine."

If you're ahead on AI, he says, "that naturally means that you'll be ahead as a country."

For Singh, a serial entrepreneur who has built two data-based companies (one of which, Nutanix, is now valued at $9  billion on the public market), it's integral that the US start paying closer attention to the development of AI in China, where he says the technology is poised to take off.

"The future will be won or lost on this technology," said Singh. "I'm very concerned about the US falling behind. It's quite scary."

10 years ago, it was the other way around

While the US established itself as the uncontested technological leader in the internet's early years, many investors and entrepreneurs believe it could soon lose its top spot. 

Ron Cao, a partner at Shanghai-based firm Sky9 Capital, says China has increasingly become the place to look for new trends and innovations in the internet business. 

"What's going on with China's internet is a prediction of what will happen in the US internet market," says Cao. "10 years ago, it was completely the other way around: China was watching the US for cues. But over the past few years it's shifted. What's happening in China is beginning to be where it's going in the US."

While many experts agree that China still has yet to surpass the US in its development of AI (in April, an Oxford University researcher told Axios that he thought that China's AI was about half as good as that in the US), some say this won't be the case for long. 

AI is the next "space race"

"In the field of AI, China is neck and neck with the US," said Dennis Barrier, CEO of global venture firm Cathay Innovation. "I wouldn't say that China is ahead just yet. But it's very true that only a few years ago it was very far behind. You can see if the trend continues like that, they'll soon be ahead."

Some industry experts reckon that China's AI could outperform that of the US in less than a decade. Barrier, however, believes it will happen much sooner: Given China's staggering number of engineers, their indisputably aggressive work ethic, and the country's renewed interest in AI, "my personal feeling is that in two years, China will be ahead of the US in AI," said Barrier. "They're set to outpace us in the core tech that is transforming every field in the world."

While others have compared the race for better AI to the Cold War's arms race, Singh likens it to another global rivalry in innovation: "You can think of this in terms of the Space Race," he said. "The Space Race uplifted the industrial skillset in the country. I think this is quite similar in regards to staying ahead  we’ve got to make it a national priority."

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