How to Live Without Regret | Kai-Fu Lee on Impact Theory | Transcription

Transcription for the video titled "How to Live Without Regret | Kai-Fu Lee on Impact Theory".


Note: This transcription is split and grouped by topics and subtopics. You can navigate through the Table of Contents on the left. It's interactive. All paragraphs are timed to the original video. Click on the time (e.g., 01:53) to jump to the specific portion of the video.


Intro (00:00)

And I think another important thing is, me, the lot of people who are smarter than you, and ask them questions, and pay attention, and follow up and validate and check the things that you learn. If you feel the whole world can be your teacher, and you're learning, asking questions, keeping an open mind, that I think probably is what I have done. Hey, everybody. Welcome to Impact Theory. Our goal with this show and company is to introduce you to the people and ideas that will help you actually execute on your dreams. All right, today's guest is one of the most prominent and successful tech investors on the planet, named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine. His contributions to both the Chinese high tech industry and to the broader field of artificial intelligence simply cannot be overstated. As chairman and CEO of Cinevation Ventures, he manages roughly $2 billion, and through some of the most blindingly prescient investments, he and his team in just four years have helped birth 15 unicorn startups, including an unparalleled five in AI alone. The author of 10 US patents and more than 100 journal and conference papers, as well as being the founding president of Google China, the founder of Microsoft Research Asia, and a former executive at both SGI and Apple, it's easy to see why so many consider him one of the most central figures in the realm of artificial intelligence. The numerous innovations he's helped bring the world have been featured on Good Morning America, ABC Television, and the front page of The Wall Street Journal. He's also the author of seven best-selling books and has more than 50 million followers on social media. His leadership and insights into the future of technology have not only garnered him followers, but have also made him one of the most respected educators of the next generation of entrepreneurs and policymakers. So please, help me in welcoming the best-selling author of the new book, AI Superpowers, The Oracle of Innovation Himself, Dr. Kaifu Li. Welcome, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Absolutely, man. It's so good to have you. It's great to be here. I am very excited to dive into AI and all that stuff, which I have an absolute fascination with. But I actually want to start-- you've talked a lot about the Chinese work ethic and how crazy intensity is. Was that already something that was present in your family? I know you've talked about it. Was there a lot of pressure in your family to excel? There was, especially from my mom. I was her only son, and I think she really wanted me to excel. So I remember when I was very young, she would have me write these Chinese characters. And every time I make a little mistake, she would slap my hand, have to do it over, have to memorize all those Chinese poetry. Every time I miss one character, she throw the book out the door. So it was pushed to work very hard, but also very rewarding. She would buy me any book I want to read, and she would give me reward and hugs and lots of good food when I do a good job. So very much the following the Chinese reward punishment system to push towards incredible hard work and excellence. That's interesting. How much have you now employed with your own kids? None. Really? That's interesting. Why none? Because I think people really need to find their passion and forcing someone who's not good at math to enter the math contest or someone who hates spelling to win the spelling bee is not something I want my kids to do. So I always help them explore things they might be interested in and then supported them when they found that. That's really interesting. I want to talk more about that. So your mom was pretty intense, but was obviously you said that it was very rewarding. Was it just rewarding in the sense that, OK, I had access to books and I would get anything I want? Or has it been like that knowledge that she forced you to get? Has it helped you? You've been so successful. I think it certainly has helped me. But also, I think having the chance to study in America was perhaps even more important that Asian schools really didn't give people a chance to learn how to learn. And the Asian schools are really good at providing a decent level of competence by forcing you to memorize everything. But it actually stifles creativity. So coming to America was probably even more important than being forced to work really hard before the age of 11. Because you were able to find creative outlets? Yeah, because then I found programming to be fun, AI to be fun, and I was able to pursue my passion, maybe a little bit late, but still got to. So interesting. So listening to you talk, and I'm so interested in your theories around why you think the Chinese are such high performers. And in fact, talk about that. So you've said that if the Chinese culture comes up against basically any other culture, where's the work ethic fall? Well, I think work ethic is a very critical part why China has risen so fast. And the work ethic is not only a century old Chinese tradition, but it's also accentuated now because China has been poor for so many recent centuries. So imagine a single child in a family who has pressure from the two parents and the four grandparents, all the pressure on one person, and feeling that this person is the only chance to bring the family out of poverty. And the family may have been in poverty for 5, 10, 20 generations. So you can imagine the pressure to excel. So as long as China still has not created a large middle class like America has, there will always be these poorer families with great expectations for incredible work ethic. So it's so interesting to me. So that there's something maybe distressing in me that makes me like that so much. It's created this just wave of innovation in China that certainly in AI is rapidly becoming unparalleled. And to hear you tie that to that, you've got these people that have expectations on one person and they've got that one shot to pull them out of poverty, but they're really doing it. So for me, it begs the question, then, what's more important to you?

Discussion On Life, Work, & Artificial Intelligence

Why are Chinese entrepreneurs so successful? (06:56)

So you obviously champion that. You've invested in a lot of companies very successfully and you bet on a lot of Chinese entrepreneurs because of this work ethic. So why not instill or push your kids in a similar way? What is it that is more important that makes you not want to do that? Well, I've been through a lot myself. I've had cancer and I'm now in remission. And in facing cancer, I realized that working hard can't be the purpose of our lives. And it can be something you would do when you love it, but it actually creates a lot of stress. And at the end of the day, when you really look at your life and facing death in maybe measured in hundreds of days as I once did, I felt working hard was not on my priority list at all. If anything, I regret it working too hard. So talk to me about the cancer diagnosis. So the day that that comes down, what was that moment like? You've been, in fact, give everybody a little bit of frame of reference for the Chinese work ethic. You said that there was one company that said, hey, come work with us. We're far more balanced. We're 996. What that mean? Yeah. That company is now listed at about $60 billion. And they attracted the employees on the basis of work life balance. And the 996 meant 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day for six days a week. And that's the balanced company. That's the balanced company. You get Sunday off. So you're in that environment. Were you working like that? Yeah. Oh, God. Talk to us about when your wife was about to give birth. Right. So for my first child in 1991, December 16, it was the day I had to present to Apple CEO, artificial intelligence. We had a demo that would work really well with my voice and less well with other people's voices. And I wanted to put the best foot forward. But my daughter wouldn't come out. So I had to face a decision of, do I see my childbirth or do I make the presentation an AI? And I was set getting ready to go back to work. But just half an hour before I had to leave, she cooperated and came out. Otherwise, I would have missed her birth. All right.

Cancer diagnosis (09:31)

So we go from that. And then that type of work ethic, do or die, all in. Where 996 is balanced. How do you hear that cancer diagnosis? What is that like first hour, first day like? I went through the usual phase of denial and why me? Negotiate with God. What have I done wrong? What can I do right? And then quickly came to my senses that this is what it is. And I need to first rewrite my will, tell my family, and then go on the internet to look for any possible chance that I might still be treatable. So it was both the emotional side and also the rational side simultaneously firing away. And once I got both sides settled, all the emotion, anger kind of calmed down and also found that this cancer is actually still possibly treatable, then I reflected on my life and realized that I really put work first. And my family, my loved ones, I was a passable son, husband, and dad, because I was a good optimizer, like an AI algorithm. I knew how to spend enough time with them so they would consider me passable, but never put them at a top priority. Were you living like that with work first as a sense of duty or obligation? Actually, I just thought I loved it. I loved the sense of accomplishment. I loved the fact that my employees called me Ironman. That was my nickname. I loved the fact that I responded to email within five minutes, always, had my PC with me at the time there's no mobile phones. And even when I went to bed, I would wake up automatically at 2 AM and 5 AM to answer all my emails because I was working for Google. And there were questions my colleagues and boss may have. I wanted to be responsive. I also wanted my employees to feel like, well, the boss works so hard, I should work hard too. So I never thought there was any issue with making working hard the only priority in life. So, man, when I say this resonates with me because I'm still in that mode where I love it and I had an employee tell me that she didn't think I was human and I loved it.

Living with work first (12:14)

So now help me see the perspective of when you really start to reflect and start regretting. Why regret? If you were really enjoying it, what is it that your family gives you or means to you or whatever that you realize that was a mistake? Well, when I found out about my diagnosis and got over the denial period, I started rethinking my life's priorities. And I saw how my family was so selfless in taking care of me. My wife would sleep in the hospital with me on the little couch and my sisters were making me food and my daughters were making me a little presence and trying to cheer me up. And I saw that I never did that for them. And then also I read a book by Bronnie Ware. She was a caretaking nurse who saw 2,000 people on their deathbeds. And in her book, she said, none of them wish they had worked harder, achieved more wealth or fame. They only wish for giving love, spending time with the loved ones, and also pursuing their dreams and not just blindly following fame and wealth. And also during my illness, I visited a very famous Buddhist monk, Master Sheenrin. He's perhaps the most famous Buddhist monk in the world. He's very wise in the mountains in Taiwan. And then I talked to him about my illness and my regrets. And then he said, Kifu, what really drove your life? And I said, very simple, making a difference to the world, making an impact. So I measure everything I do minutely by how I can make a bigger impact, how I can invest in a better company, how I can write a book that sells more copies, how I can give a speech, listen to by more people. And I said, this has to be good for the world. And why do I have cancer? And he said, are you sure you're doing all this for the world to be better, or are you just doing it to make yourself more famous? And then I started to realize these two were not separable. And it was-- and then he explained that people can basically succumb to two temptations-- greed for money and greed for fame. And he said that in a lot of Chinese teachings, well, greed for fame is considered bad. So a lot of scholars shun that. But greed for fame is praised because that's considered leaving a good reputation, changing the world, helping the world be a better place. But he said, Kifu, I think you're just fooling yourself to say that you're trying to help the world. You're really just trying to be more famous, aren't you? And then that really hit me. And he said, well, if you agree with what I said, really, I think you should change your purpose. Helping the world be a better place is good. But it is through giving love to other people. It is not through making yourself famous. You need to separate these two things. And that was probably the big wake-up call that I needed. How did you separate them? Well, when I wanted to do something, I would ask if this is something that would really make the world a better place. Or is it just yet another effort to make myself more famous? And I would prioritize the former goal. And then if there are people who needed my help, that would have nothing to do with my advancing myself. But it was something that I knew they needed. I would spend more time for that. And I would spend more time with my family. And really, I still work hard. But I always put my family's priorities at first-- family and friends. When my kids take vacation home, that's when I drop work and spend time with them, rather than the other way around. It's just reversing the priority. Because family isn't going to take all of your time. If one just puts that at a higher priority, I think the number of hours I work may be 20% less. It's not down dramatically. But now I feel much more gratifying that every day I feel like my life is more meaningful. And also, I've killed all my bad habits, refused to get up at night, have a wonderful-- try to get a good full night's sleep every night. So walk me through the barometer that you use to determine whether something's actually going to be good for the world.

How To Know If Something Will Be Good (17:28)

So you're at this nexus of something that is going to disrupt the world so profoundly. How do you look at that and go, this project is worth my time and energy, and this one is not? Well, we can choose to invest in a lot of artificial intelligence projects. Obviously, if we see a good business opportunity, we can't pass. But I would spend more time-- AI for health, AI for education. Those are things I would spend my personal time on, because knowing that those will be beneficial to the world. Also, when I look at all the AI investments we've made, I can see that there are many jobs that are being displaced by the investments we made and also by AI in general. And that is a warning call that the world needed. So I decided to write this book. This book is not just about AI technology. It's about China and US rising as a dual engine to push AI forward. And that AI is an ability within one single domain to do a superhuman job, whether it is picking fruits, washing dishes, working on the assembly line, customer service, cashier, loan officer. I see those jobs as being displaced over the next 10 years. And there needs to be a warning for young people to pick the right professions and the warning for people in those professions to get ready for a new beginning. So that, I think, was clear call to me that it was a call of duty that someone needed to alert the world on that. It's really interesting. And what I love about it, and putting you in context, you, in particular, talking on this subject is so fascinating because you've said that the very purpose of life is to give and receive love. So somebody who says that the very purpose of life is to give and receive love. How do you think about the disruption that's coming? It's going to just eradicate jobs and ironically enough. So I partnered with a DJ named Steve Aoki. We wrote a comic together called Neon Future. And it's about the trough of joblessness that we're going to go through. And the story we wanted to tell was, how do you get out of that? How do you come out of the trough? It's pretty inevitable that that's going to happen, that there is going to be this disruption. So knowing that the purpose of life is to give and receive love, knowing that you're trying to help people pick jobs that are going to work well with AI. What is that? What should people be thinking about now? Yeah, I think it actually all works out because if you look at this defensively and say, what are the things that AI cannot do? It really falls into two large buckets. One is jobs that require creativity, strategy, conceptual thinking. And the other is jobs that require compassion, empathy, and human connection. Because you don't want a robot to be a nurse, a doctor, an anne, an elderly caretaker. So it turns out the latter bucket is the only bucket large enough for the job displacement. I think for the next 20 to 25 years, people's values are what they are. As much as I have come out and realized my life can't be just about work, there are many who will not have that death-driven epiphany. So they won't realize it. And so it is important for them to find a new beginning. And it is really serendipity that the jobs that are large enough in quantity and trainable in the fairly short amount of time are the jobs of compassion. So that will be how the routine jobs when people are displaced out of warehouses, assembly lines, call centers, that job waiting for them with the training will be jobs of compassion. But that won't happen unless the jobs of compassion are understood to be a valuable job and are well paid in the society.

Jobs Of Compassion (21:53)

So part of in the book is talking about how we can really help that happen. Because AI won't make someone want to do an elderly caretaker job. It just has to pay better. And that job, that category, elderly caretaker, is going to blossom because people are living longer. People over 80 need five times as much care. And yet, the 1 million positions open, elderly caretaker, are not being filled because the pay is not enough. So AI is going to create just in the next 12 years $17 trillion of net value to the world. So now I want to bring that together with two things that you've talked about. So we've got the notion of humans are really going to find their purpose and love. And humans have this desire to chase their dreams. So how do we bring those two things together when dreams are often conflated rightly or wrongly with the fame, with the money? How do you help people, maybe even your own kids, how do you help them see a way to bring those two things together? Well, so when we think about beyond the current trough, maybe 30 to 50 years from now, the age-- That trough being like joblessness? Joblessness, right. I think we really need to think about the different world, that the AI is not only meant to wake up us now to go for the jobs that have more compassion, service jobs, and so on, but also it's meant for education to be changed. I think there are two aspects. I think one is all the kids should be encouraged to really do what they love. It's really important for us not to let the current prejudices or beliefs. These are the good jobs-- doctors, lawyers, engineers. These are the good jobs. What many of these jobs will be gone too?

The jobs AI will take over in the next 5-10 years (24:10)

Within each area, certain jobs will open up, certain jobs will close down. Let's take the medical domain. I think radiologists, dermatologists, in 30 years, they'll be gone. There won't be any more humans doing those jobs. But medical researchers, people who invent the next drug, well, that's going to be what we need. So I think encouraging people to go for the jobs where AI is a tool that amplifies your creativity. That would be the ultimate job to have. But it has to be an education that encourages creativity and an education that helps people go after what they're passionate about. Wow. I love that. Talk to me about follow through. So a lot of people are going to experiment with a lot of things. They're going to start. They're going to stop. And that's going to become a pattern in their life. Start, stop, start, stop. How do people develop the level of discipline-- I'm putting words in your mouth maybe-- but discipline or grit to see things through? Well, I think one part is to recognize that we're not just in a society with other people. We have AI. So we really need-- if we really want to be that group of the creatives, the group that have the wind behind their sails with AI as tools pushing and amplifying their creativity, well, you've got to work hard at it. I think that's going to have a higher bar than ever before. So that self-motivation, I think, needs to be there. Also, I think you've got to be doing something you love to do. I don't think anyone can be amazing unless they're doing what they love. Those two are really combined. I think there was a book by Malcolm Gladwell, where he talked about the 10,000-hour rule. And that really continues to be true. So it's got to be that 10,000 hours plus something you're deeply passionate about. And then I would add on top of that, pick something that AI can be put in your sails. If you have that, then I think the future will be very, very bright. The way that you look at the problem is really, really interesting.

How do you develop an open mind? (26:33)

And I think too many people probably dismiss you just saying that, oh, you grew up in America and China, so you automatically have this purview. But I think that you have an exceptional ability to learn. And I'm wondering if you have a system of learning? How do you go about taking a big problem and really getting perspective on it? Well, I think first you've got to have an open mind. I think if you start with any prejudice, that Chinese companies are just copycats, or Silicon Valley people just don't work hard, then I think you have blinders on and don't look at the whole picture. And I think another important thing is, me, a lot of people who are smarter than you, and ask them questions, and pay attention, and follow up, and validate and check the things that you learn. If you feel the whole world can be your teacher, and you're learning, asking questions, keeping an open mind, that I think probably is what I have done. It's really interesting. You talk about an open mind. So you said something in the book, and I was very surprised, and you said that even if we're wrong and we don't have a soul, we're better to believe that we do. Why is life better if we believe we have a soul? Well, many people feel either we have a soul or we don't. It's a very strong belief that people have. If you ask religious people, they'll believe, of course, we have a soul. Of course, AI can never do what we do. But if you ask a lot of AI scientists, they'll say, well, it's all physical matters, and we just need to duplicate and replicate everything in our brain and body, then there will be a replica of a human. And of course, everything we do are just electrons firing, chemical reactions. Everything can be replicated, so how can there be a soul? So both sides are very dogmatic. Having gone through cancer, having seen what are the things that are most important to me, and having been humbled by many mysteries that I don't understand, I would be with the groups that believe we have a soul. We're at a very tough juncture in humanity where we face a lot of great technologies and that our collective consciousness is going to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. So if we all choose to be optimistic and believe that we have a soul and believe compassion will take us out of any of the issues and believe we'll find a better purpose to humanity, then we will. But if we believe it's all a downward spiral, then it will be that. So it's not so much a matter of do we have a soul or not, but it's a matter of our collective consciousness will create a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is either utopia or dystopia. Yeah, I love that. You said that there are mysteries that you've encountered that you don't fully understand. What are some of those mysteries? Well, why does intuition work? Why do you, when you see someone, you either feel affinity or not? Why is there placebo effect? By just our determination, by believing that this useless drug is going to cure us, we actually get cured. So those things, I think, are very hard to explain with a simple AI can replicate everything we do. Yeah, that kind of stuff is really, really fascinating to me.

What is the soul? (30:22)

One thing that I should have asked you is what is the soul? Like, what is it that you want people to believe in, and why does that make our experience more love-filled and beautiful? I think it's a belief that human to human can truly connect. And that is not replaced by any machine. That is a belief that the human to human connection is true and genuine, and that machines cannot do that. And that our soul, I think there's also a belief, once you believe there's a soul, that even when our body dies, the soul potentially continues. So I think that may or may not be true, but I think I'm choosing to believe it. And I think a lot of the religions have that element. I think religions also have elements of superstition, which is why they're losing traction. But I think there's something, some memories that people have of others, and the affinity they feel, it seems plausible that even when our body dies, our soul goes on. Glad you brought up meaning.

The notion that AI can lead to a loss of meaning (31:46)

That's such an important part of the book, the notion that AI can, if we're overly focused on working, being our reason for existing, that there will be this loss of meaning. What are you worried about in the loss of meaning? Why is it important, and how do we avoid it? I think ultimately, we will need to find the meaning of our existence. I think philosophers, religions have talked about it. I think our pursuit needs to continue. But for now, we have been brainwashed into thinking, many of us think that the meaning of our life is our work. And that's understandable, because if you go back to the roots of industrial revolution, it was a process of creating a lot of jobs that are repetitive and routine, that is actually taking Artisan's job and making a car, let's say, into an assembly line job. And in order for the many people who are in routine jobs to accept their jobs, it would be convenient if they believed that their life was about working. Work is suffering, it's repetitive, it's boring, but I gotta do it, and if I do it well and do a lot of it, I will earn more money and give my family a better life, give my kids a better education, so therefore my work is the meaning of life. But AI is just the opposite of the industrial revolution. It is exactly here to displace those routine jobs that were created by industrial revolution. So when those jobs are eradicated and people have attached their meaning of life to their work and their work is gone, displaced by AI, and any job they're likely to find may be displaced again by AI. I think they will fall into depression, substance abuse, even suicide. There are a lot of evidence that, given the spring wash that we have, suicide rates, depression rates, substance abuse rates, all go up in prolonged periods of unemployment. So I believe when we're facing this significant unemployment in the next 15 or 20 years, we can't just hope to cure it by handing social welfare to people, by giving them money and saying, "Don't worry, you don't have to get a job. "Here's some money to help tie you over," because what people lose that's most valuable to them is not the loss of income, but the loss of meaning. - All right, before I ask my last question, tell these guys where they can find you online. I'm Khai Fule on Twitter, just my whole name's spelled, K-A-I-F-U-L-E, and my book has a website,, on which I'll post my newest writings. - Excellent. So my last question, what is the impact that you wanna have on the world? - I think the most important impact is really to spread love and to be sincere to people and to do everything from my heart. And when I see opportunities, share my thoughts in a way that will cause the world to be a better place. - All right, Khai Fule, thank you so much for coming on the show, that was amazing. - Thank you. - All right, guys, I'm telling you, the coming AI revolution is so massive and to let it catch you off guard would really be a tragedy, largely for the reason that he already talked about, which is there is this real fear of loss of meaning coming because everybody has their identity so tied up in their job. And I've never seen anybody more gracefully be able to go from engineer, like really talking about the science and what's happening and why it's happening and have such a tremendous understanding of how it's playing out even geopolitically. And then yet also, in the same book, be talking about love and meaning and connection and to be able to share his personal story of his cancer diagnosis and how it changed.

Kai's own personal cancer diagnosis (35:36)

And I really believe in Yuval Noah Harari's notion that people have, he said science fiction writers, but I'll take it farther than that. And I'll say that people in this realm of dealing with future technologies have a moral obligation to paint a picture of the future that's worth creating. If we don't have a vision to strive towards them, the odds of us getting there are exactly zero. And that is one of the things that I found most extraordinary about his book is he paints this incredible vision of that and I'll encapsulate it with the moment when the go player lost. And he said everybody saw this triumph of even taking it so far as to say that it was the West triumphing over China and AI certainly triumphing over man. And he said that was to misread the situation.

Analysis Of Man Vs. Ai In Go Match

The wrong way to interpret the man vs. AI Go match (36:35)

And what he saw was a man that loved the game so much that he couldn't help himself, but to take on a challenge he knew he would ultimately lose. And I love that, that hit me so hard because that's the human experience. So I think that this is a truly unique voice. He is an ultra credible scientist. He has done extraordinary things in the field of AI and what he's doing now from an investment standpoint, I think the 50 million followers are just the tip of an iceberg of people that should be paying attention to this man and I hope that you will become one of them. All right, if you haven't already, be sure to subscribe and until next time my friends, be legendary, take care. - Kai, thank you again so much, man. It was an absolute pleasure. - Hey everybody, thank you so much for watching and being a part of this community. If you haven't already, be sure to subscribe. You're gonna get weekly videos on building a growth mindset, cultivating grit and unlocking your full potential. You

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