Veteran tech investor Lee Kai-fu bets on AI as next internet wave

Former Google and Microsoft executive’s Sinovation Ventures has invested US$100 million in 25 AI-related start-ups so far

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 5:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 11:01pm

Sinovation Ventures, the Chinese venture capital firm founded by veteran tech investor Lee Kai-fu, is betting big that artificial intelligence (AI) will replace a growing number of human jobs from equity traders, security guards. drivers even medical staff in future.

“AI is really changing every profession and every industry. There’s almost nothing that won’t be touched by AI,” said Lee, one of the most influential figures in China’s internet sector.

Lee said AI is now Sinovation’s most important investment category among, having invested US$100 million in 25 AI-related start-ups.

It raised the equivalent of US$675 million in total across a Chinese and an American fund in September, and the firm has over 300 companies in its portfolio.

A former senior executive for Google and Microsoft in China, Lee said AI is set to mean huge changes in the financial sector, while in other sectors such as medicine, it is already replacing some basic teaching functions, and basic diagnosis.

“If an AI application is smarter than a human trader in buying and selling stocks, why do we need a human equity trader?” Lee ask a forum in Beijing on Monday.

“AI face recognition is already being used by the security industry. If AI application can recognise people’s faces better than human, we don’t need a security guard as well,” Lee said.

With many people look towards autonomous vehicles, the founder, who has around 50 million followers on Chinese social networks, also wants to invest in image recognition technology, financial applications and healthcare startups relying on artificial intelligence.

AI is really changing every profession and every industry. There’s almost nothing that won’t be touched by AI
Lee Kai-fu

Nearly half of Sinovation Ventures recent investments have been in artificial intelligence.

China’s internet giants including Baidu Inc and Alibaba Group Holding have also been making big investment in the AI technologies.

Baidu in September launched a US$200 million venture capital unit to invest in start-up projects while Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post, has also expanded its AI applications to more into areas such as traffic control, customer services, and real-time voice recognition.

Although venture capitalists are still chasing investment opportunities in AI technology in the internet age, Lee cautioned however, the market is becoming tighter and highly competitive.

This year venture in capital investment is likely be to halved that last year as the growth in internet users is slows, he added.