SINGAPORE (Dec 11): Dec 3 marked the opening of the annual World Internet Conference in Wuzhen. The global techfest was attended by the CEOs of some of the world’s largest companies, including Apple’s Tim Cook and Google’s Sundar Pichai, alongside Alibaba Group Holding’s Jack Ma, Tencent Holdings’ Pony Ma and Baidu’s Robin Li, as well as the top names in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, digital payments and cybersecurity. The opening session on the first day was aptly titled “Artificial Intelligence: Smarter World, Better Life”. 

That a small Chinese town 90 minutes’ drive from Shanghai would host the world’s biggest annual internet event or that CEOs of global tech giants and the world’s top robotics experts would flock there should not surprise anyone. China is where the action is across an array of powerful internet-enabled technologies such as AI, robotics, fintech and e-commerce as well as virtual and augmented reality.  

The real battle is for AI dominance. Just how important is AI? Russian President Vladimir Putin put it succinctly in a speech to Moscow students in early September: Whoever takes the lead in AI will have the key to global domination. Though Putin is probably under the illusion that Russia itself might be in the race, there are really only two major contenders for the world’s first AI superpower: China and the US. 

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