China, Technology Development and the Future

Legendary Sequoia Partner Mike Moritz recently penned an article in the Financial Times, as he is wont to do, titled "Silicon Valley Would be Wise to Follow China's Lead." It describes the culture of working at a startup in China; long hours, family sacrifices and a "furious" pace of work. This would be fine in my opinion, if it were a singular exploration of a very unique culture. By not only contrasting it with Silicon Valley, but also being prescriptive in saying we should "follow" the "lead" of China, Moritz misses a chance to focus on output as the main measure of success rather than the outward impression of how busy you are. The two cultures are so drastically different, a suggestion that one should simply follow the other seems sub-optimal.

Having said all that, the comparison of China and the U.S. technologically, culturally, intellectually, has been a long one. Now, in exploring output or value creation as the main comparison factor we see there are many elements of this story that are worth investigating:

  • Will the relative lack of privacy concerns on personal data in China enable them to create massive databases to train their models, unavailable to the U.S. stricter data controls?
  • Will different government policies have a long term impact on the locus of power in A.I? (In an official report China's government issues a strong call to arms: "we must take the initiative to seek change and keep a firm grasp of major historical opportunities in the development of artificial intelligence." Meanwhile the current U.S. administration is cutting funding to A.I. research.)
  • Does the U.S. offer the state of the art in mobile design? China effectively skipped the PC revolution and directly adopted the smartphone with interesting consequences. Dan Grover, former Product Manager at WeChat (now at Facebook) detailed in 2014 and 2016 the differences in mobile design between the U.S. and China, not hinting at which is better but it was very fascinating. 
  • Does the U.S. offer state of the art in AI/ML? Andrew Ng is not shy to burn SV from time to time

In my view, a major story that will play out over the next decade is the internal conflict of technological regulation. It is both a necessity to maintain the core value of privacy and a potential hindrance on technology advancement. Will China's more lax regulations allow it to adopt and deploy autonomous vehicles quicker? virtual reality as entertainment quicker? A.I for medical diagnosis? For everything?

People have seen this coming. a16z have Partners that worked in the White House under Bush and Obama and Tusk Ventures was recently created specifically to help startups "thrive in heavily regulated markets." It's going to be a fascinating decade.