In late March I attended the China Development Forum (CDF) for the ninth time. The visit stimulated my recent observations on China’s economy and politics. But what makes the CDF most valuable is serendipity. This time that came in the shape of a meeting with Kai-Fu Lee, former president of Google China and now a leading venture capitalist in Chinese technology. Lee gave me a copy of his new book, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order. It has a startling story to tell: for the first time since the industrial revolution, he argues, China will be at the forefront of a huge economic transformation — the revolution in artificial intelligence (AI). He starts his book by talking about China’s “Sputnik moment”, when Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo defeated Ke Jie, the world’s leading player of the ancient Chinese game of Go. This demonstrated the capacity of modern AI. But, by implication, Lee’s book foresees another such moment, when the US realises it is no longer leade...

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