Kai-Fu Lee was born on December 3, 1961. He is a Taiwanese-born American computer scientist, businessman, and writer. He is currently based in Beijing, China.
Lee was born in Taipei, Taiwan. He is the son of Li Tinman, a legislator and historian from Sichuan, China. Lee has detailed his personal life and career history in his autobiography in both Chinese and English, making a World of Difference, published in October 2011.
In 1973, Lee emigrated to the United States and attended high school in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He graduated summa cum laude from Columbia University, earning a B.S. degree in computer science in 1983. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in 1988.
Lee developed a speaker-independent, continuous speech recognition system as his Ph.D. thesis at Carnegie Mellon. He later worked as an executive, first at Apple, then SGI, Microsoft, and Google. He became the focus of a 2005 legal dispute between Google and Microsoft, his former employer, due to a one-year non-compete agreement that he signed with Microsoft in 2000 when he became its corporate vice president of interactive services. In his 2018 book AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, Lee describes how China is rapidly moving forward to become the global leader in AI, and may well surpass the United States, because of China's demographics and its amassing of huge data sets. In a 28 September 2018 interview on the PBS Amanpour program, he stated that artificial intelligence, with all its capabilities, will never be capable of creativity or empathy.
Lee has written two books on speech recognition and more than 60 papers in computer science. His doctoral dissertation was published in 1988 as a Kluwer monograph, Automatic Speech Recognition. After two years as a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon, Lee joined Apple Computer in 1990 as a principal research scientist. While at Apple (1990–1996), he headed R&D groups responsible for Apple Bandai Pippin, Paintal, Casper (speech interface), Galata (text to speech system) for Mac Computers.