Nina Xiang, author of newly released book Red AI: Victories and Warnings From China’s Rise In Artificial Intelligence, is passionate about investigative reporting, storytelling, and going against the conventional wisdom.
In this definitive book on one of the most controversial topics of our time, Xiang offers a fresh perspective and a new narrative illuminating the much-hyped AI industry in China. Through compelling stories packed with fascinating details, Xiang dispels the myth and hyperbole surrounding China’s position in the artificial intelligence race against the United States.
"My book is definitely contrarian," Xiang says. "Media assertions that China is an AI superpower are extremely forward-looking and one-sided, presenting only the evidence supporting these claims and disregarding contrasting facts."
For anyone seeking to gain a deeper understanding of Chinese AI, or of the AI industry in general, this book provides the most comprehensive overview available to date.
Xiang, a veteran journalist who grew up in China, takes readers on a journey deep into the heart of China’s AI universe to explore cutting-edge developments in facial recognition, speech recognition, self-driving cars, robotics, AI chips, healthcare, and financial profiling services, resulting in an intriguing read that raises compelling questions for one to ponder afterwards.
In the following interview, Nina Xiang discusses her new book and the new light she hopes it will shed upon current discussions on China AI.
Q: What prompted you to write this book?
A: I have lived and breathed China’s AI industry for the past five years. As part of my day job as the managing editor of China Money Network, I read and write about the industry and visit and speak with insiders on a daily basis. In many cases, when I would read a China AI-focused article written by a foreign-based journalist after a week or two of research, quoting mostly American sources, I would begin to question my reality.
These stories would hype vaporware, or they would fail to dive deep enough into the real-world applications claimed by some of China’s AI innovators. I checked and double-checked the reality. The result is this book. Hopefully, Western journalists, policymakers, politicians, businesspeople and tech leaders can read the book and start questioning their assumptions about China’s artificial intelligence space.
Q: What are the key messages of the book?
A: First, China has a big tech sector, a big AI industry. Both are big but not strong. China is not an AI superpower, especially not in terms of fundamental research and innovation. Second, some of the claimed China AI prowess results directly from peculiarities in China’s political, economic and social conditions. Third, China AI has fatal flaws and therefore faces great uncertainty in the future.
Q: What does this mean for China and the rest of the world?
A: All signs point to a future where China AI will reorder its priorities. While the industry has always valued size, speed, strength, and progress; self-reliance will become its most prized objective going forward.
China will likely establish its independent IT infrastructure and ecosystem, and therefore its own AI systems and standards. Where possible, other countries will do the same. Our digital and AI-powered future will echo the division and disjuncture of the physical world.
Q: What is your advice for policymakers and companies?
A: For companies in China, as the country strives for self-reliance, great opportunities lie ahead. But the prevailing mentality among Chinese AI companies must shift from seeking quick successes to pursuing true innovation with lots of perseverance.
Instead of focusing on containing China’s rise, Washington should spend its energy reinforcing the foundation of US innovation: openness, freedom, and good policy-making.
*Nina Xiang is the founder of China Money Network.