ChinAI Newsletter #24: Qi Lu and Y Combinator China - an exclusive conversation with one of the brightest minds on ChinAI

Welcome to the ChinAI Newsletter!

These are Jeff Ding's weekly translations of writings on AI policy and strategy from Chinese thinkers. I'll also include general links to all things at the intersection of China and AI. Please share the subscription link if you think this stuff is cool. Here's an archive of all past issues. *Subscribers are welcome to share excerpts from these translations as long as my original translation is cited.

I'm a grad student at the University of Oxford where I'm the China lead for the Governance of AI Program, Future of Humanity Institute.

Qi Lu's Next Move - Heading up Y Combinator China

A major h/t to ChinAI subscriber Alex Ray, a ML engineer at OpenAI, for pointing me to this week's translation - an article with an exclusive interview with Qi Lu (former Exec VP of Microsoft, COO of Baidu) on why he chose YC, his thoughts on China's structural advantages in AI development, his musings on Einstein and the linearity of books/language, and much more. Pumped that more and more people are commenting on each week's translations and suggesting links/translations. I'm hoping to bring on some people to help with translations in the future: the goal is for ChinAI to be a weekly, growing library of materials for people to add to, make suggestions for the library's new materials, and borrow from.

This was a really fun read and is chock-full of good insights from one of the smartest and influential people in this space, here's what I found particularly interesting:

  • YC's goal to be completely localized in China ("By China, For China, and Of China") - at one point Qi Lu says, "YC China’s research institute will also establish connections with scientific research institutes in government or in companies, and it hopes to support China’s path to becoming an innovation power, receiving the Chinese government’s support."

  • He thinks land:data::agricultural revolution:the AI revolution - but data labeling costs are making it more difficult for startups to challenge the large companies

  • He believes China has a "structural advantage" in the development of AI tech because of the amount of people in a unified language market which brings more opportunities to experiment

  • So he wants to create a more open data ecosystem, one which allows data to ultimately belong to individuals who can give access to their data to any company they want - he thinks blockchain in the long-term can help with this

  • Details about YC China's business: there will be a research institute (Qi Lu will also head YC's global research institute), there will be a partner/part-time partner structure, and YC China will also raise funds independently

  • I really don't think YC could have found a better person to lead YC China: I was a fan before but came away pretty impressed and charmed by his sincerity, systematic way of thinking about things, and philosophical asides, "language itself is very unsatisfactory" to Qi apparently. Obviously the track record and cross-border connections speak for themselves.

It's a long interview, but I've marked out sections to make navigation easier.

Qi Lu, YC China's No. 1 Employee

This Week's ChinAI Links

According to this week's translation, while at Microsoft, Qi Lu had a deal with Steve Ballmer that he would only do two public relations activities per year because he doesn't like interviews, so Steve would do the rest. Here's another rare video interview from last november with Qi Lu and YC's Daniel Gross on AI.

There was a lot of rumors about why Qi Lu left Baidu after only a year. The lowdown has an interesting theory, featuring some elite politics (China tech giant style).

Great Reuters read on the expansion of China's surveillance state.

Have been really impressed with CB Insights research on China’s AI scene, check out part three of their China in AI series on China’s smart speaker market.

Thank you for reading and engaging.

Shout out to everyone who is commenting on the translations - idea is to build up a community of people interested in this stuff. You can contact me at or on Twitter at @jjding99