The Ai Sputnik Crisis

The AI Sputnik Crisis caused countries to teach Ai in Kindergarten, it caused them to invest in Ai research and startups. How can we prepare our children to compete in this new global workplace?

Ai Kindergarten, 4 Ai Revolutions,
Thriving in a world of Ai

Congratulations for investing in the future of your family by joining us on a Ai Parenting live. We are a judgment free community moving from screen time to quality time and our motto is don’t sedate, relate to create. Today we are creating the future by looking at the past Ai Sputnik Crisis that launched a new arms race today. We explain how to prepare our children to be competitive in a global workplace.  

The three topics that we will explore today are

  1. Ai in Kindergarten
  2. 4 Revolutions in Ai
  3. Thriving in an AI world

Ai in Kindergarten

Let me tell you a tale of two countries from the Ai Superpowers book by Kai Fu Lee:

US media reports described a “Nation in Shock” shortly after the launch of the Sputnik Satellite. Science Fiction author Arthur C Clarke said that the day that Sputnik orbited around the Earth, the US because a second-rate power. It had an instant and profound affect on the American psyche and government policy. Less than a year later billions went into initiatives ranging from defense, research, and led to the creation of NASA. The US was graduating fewer scientists a year than Russia, so lawmakers passed the National Defense Education Act that provided financial assistance that helped doubled college enrollments.  

The game of Go was invented more than 2500 years ago in China. Chess has a total of 10¹²º around possible moves but Go has around 10¹⁷⁴. That’s more than double the number of planets in our known universe. The emphasis in Go was on calm thinking and strategy rather than tactics. It was the mark of intelligence in China.  

In China, over 280 million viewers watched the 2016 Go match where 18 time world champion Lee Sedol was defeated 4 to 1 by Alpha Go. Overnight China was swept by an Artificial intelligence fever, what I’m referring to as the Ai Sputnik Crisis. A year later the Chinese central government announced a plan to be the centre of global innovation in AI by 2030. Chinese venture capitalists poured record sums into Ai startups making up 48% of Ai venture funding that year and exceeding the US for the first time.

In 2018, photos of an Artificial intelligence textbook for Chinese Kindergarten students went viral. UNESCO, Ai researchers from Google, the Institute of Automation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and top Chinese universities collaborated on the textbooks. The aim was to democratize Ai education in 100 Chinese schools, introduce pre-teens to the basics, strengthen teenagers’ capability for using intelligent and applied technologies, and help train hundreds of new Ai teachers [1]

The initiative also included a cloud-based Ai e-learning platform that students can access via PC or WeChat. The platform supports major machine learning frameworks including TensorFlow, CNTK, and Caffe; programming environments Scratch 3.0 and Python’s Integrated Development Environment (IDE). 

In April 2018, 40 high schools in Shanghai began using the Fundamentals of Artificial Intelligence textbook compiled by SenseTime, the world’s most valuable Ai startup. [2]

You might be thinking that teaching Ai in Kindergarten is hard but there are resources online and books available that make it easy to discuss. I’m not talking theoretically, I tried some of these examples out with my 5 year old son yesterday. 

We used a Google Experiment called Teachable Machine which is like a visual programming tool for machine learning with images and sound.  The examples included detecting head tilt, the sound of a clap, snap, or whistle, and detecting the ripeness of a banana. We even ate the banana afterwards to see if the ripeness matched the Ai prediction. We learned that we may have to retrain the Ai for organic bananas since they turn greenish when they ripen. This is a good opportunity to have a discussion about why the teachable machine did not work. Did it not have enough data? Was the Ai only looking at colour? What happens when you try a yellow shirt? 

The reason why this is so important is because we are at a massive fork in the road right now for education. We can either choose to move towards creative learning or we will be moving towards a world of Ai Proctoring. That is, the use of Ai to monitor if students are cheating on exams. This proctoring will not only take place in Education but also in the world of work. In the Freelance economy, your ratings basically determine how much new work will come your way. Which leads to my next point

These mini experiments are easy to do at home as a starting point. You can see this and many other examples at

Another discussion that I found very helpful was chapter 2 of the Teaching Ai book by Michelle Zimmerman. She does a full interview with a Google Ai Researcher on the future of work that is a good discussion topic to have with your family. This is a very relevant topic for any age group. 

4 Ai Revolutions

Four Ai Revolutions

In his book Ai Superpowers, Kai Fu Lee explains that there are 4 main revolutions from Ai

  1. Control of Attention on the Internet: Influencing purchases, political ideology, relationships
  2. Control of Learning and Working: Influencing insurance, freelance workers, jobs 
  3. Perception: Influencing survellance, blurring the line between digital and physical
  4. Automation: Ai decision making in the physical world

First: Lee feels that America is ahead on controlling attention on the Internet and impacting how we learn and work. Much of the world relies on Google for search, Facebook is dominant in social networking. We also see large amount of investing in Freelance platforms like Upwork and Uber. 

Yet China is not far behind. We already see how TikTok created a very smooth mobile experience for watching videos. Didi was able to beat Uber in China and WeChat has moved beyond WhatsApp in mobile payments. VIP Kid provides online tutoring for over a half million students.

Second: One of the big differences between China and North America is in the protection of intellectual property. Chinese companies have been very quick to copy the online services of American companies. Some were dismissed as almost exact replicas of the original interface. Yet it was the hyper competitive environment and ability to quickly adapt to the needs of the Chinese market quickly that made it so hard for American companies to succeed. 

Consider Groupon: there were over 5000 Groupon clones in China all competing for the same group buying market. Groupon itself had difficulty competing because by the time that they had arrived in China many alternative business models had been tried and tested and were preferred over the Groupon model. Eye tracking studies of search results found that Chinese internet users were spending a lot more time browsing the different search results presented similar to going to a mall rather than going into the store and getting the one item you need and leaving. From this hyper competitive market rose battle hardened entrepreneurs that knew precisely what strategies work on their local market making it extremely difficult to compete. 

Over time, several giants have arisen. Three of the top 5 tech unicorns come from China: Ant group which owns Alibaba, ByteDance which owns TikTok, and Didi which does transportation services. 

The quality of a deep learning Ai is determined more by the quantity of data than the expertise of the developers. the two resources most needed for successful Ai today are computing power and data. China has huge advantages in both of these areas. They have more mobile smartphone users than the US and Europe combined, and with systems like WeChat mobile payments they conduct many more financial transactions with their phones. They also have an advantage in computing power because they manufacture many consumer electronics like smartphones, laptops, and most importantly graphic cards that speed up Ai processing.  

Third: When it comes to the Ai perception revolution Lee pointed to the electronics manufacturing hub of Shenzhen and it’s ability to quickly generate new low cost products that are hard to compete against. He pointed to unicorn drone maker DJI and their ability to hold over half of the global drone market. Foxconn the company that makes most mobile phones owns more than half of the world’s supply of computer numerical control or CNC machines. 

Fourth: What starts with perceiving the real world quickly moves towards the fourth Ai revolution of acting on the real world. We tend to think about the technology change but not society change. The famous example is the Jetsons, they had incredibly futuristic technology but they lived in a society where wives stayed at home. Autonomous cars will have more impact than merely replacing drivers. Zume is a pizza startup that bakes the pizza using robots on a truck with the goal of getting you a hot pizza of your choice in less time.  

The good news is that it costs the same amount of money to hire a robot in America as it does one in China. So we are seeing a move towards local manufacturing today, the main problem is that it’s not resulting in us hiring a lot more workers. We live in a society where much of our own feeling of self worth is tied up in the work that we do. When an Ai is able to do many of the tasks that we have practiced for years we will need to ask the question: what does it mean to thrive as a human? Which leads me to my last point

Thriving in an Ai World

Thriving in an Ai World

Kafka’s famously proclamed that “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.” It must break through our barriers towards our deepest desires. And I’m happy to say that AI Superpowers does this at the end. Kai Fu Lee talks about his experience with stage for lymphoma and how it change the priorities of his life. 

It was in his struggle to write his own will that he discovered that the things that were most important to him we’re not the people that he was influencing but the very family that he had been neglecting in order to gain more influence.

He visited a Buddhist monk who asked him “what is the purpose of your life?” To which he quickly responded “to maximize my impact on the world”. The monk thought about his response and turned to him and said “are you impacting the world or are you impacting your own ego? Think about this deeply.”

Kai Fu Lee’s story is a strong reminder to not neglect our social connections with each other. In the end it is going to be our relationships that will create the movements that will lead to the society that we want the most.

If we don’t think critically about what we would like our society to be today we will be subject to the society that Ai Superpowers create for us. Ai is an inherently monopolistic technology since people’s data will go to the best solution. This data will make it very difficult for others to compete even if they have superior technology. Ai is  going to create growing inequality and a large portion of the population that will not be able to earn enough income in order to make a living wage. 

I hope you found the session today helpful. I have gone through many books in my lifetime and only a handful have really opened up my view on the world. Some examples include Paulo Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed, Andrew Yang’s the War Against Normal People and Kai Fu Lee’s Ai Superpowers. You can find a copy of Kai Fu Lee’s book on Amazon or Audible and I can leave a link in the comments. 

Next week we will be expanding on the topic of children who thrive with Education coach, author, and advocate Jorge Valenzuela. Note that we’re changing up the time to be on a Saturday morning at 8am Pacific, 9am Mountain, and 11am Eastern.   

Thank you for being a part of this journey of discovery with me on Ai Parenting. We love you, and we’re excited to seeing you next week Saturday.


  1. Ai Superpowers Book by Kai Fu Lee Available on Amazon
  2. Teaching Ai Book by Michelle Zimmerman – Available on Amazon
  3. Measure what Matters Book by John Doerr – Available on Amazon
  4. Ai Textbook for Kindergarten in China –
  5. SenseTime, the world’s most valuable Ai company –
  6. Chinese Programming Summer camp –
  7. Teachable Machine Google Experiment –

2 thoughts on “The Ai Sputnik Crisis”

  1. עיסוי אירוטי ברמת גן

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