Montreal Gazette Spreads COVID Lies

Montreal Gazette publishes lies, creating unwarranted panic and putting people at risk.

Here’s an excerpt from an article by one Aaron Derfel:

Derfel depicts Montreal’s emergency rooms as extremely dangerous, crowded, COVID-infested places. Would anybody want to go to such a place, even if one were in pain? Obviously not.

Here’s the thing, though. My mom was at the Lakeshore Hospital ER in suburban Pointe-Claire yesterday. On the exact same day the article is describing. The ER was empty. My mom’s waiting time was one minute. She was admitted for appendicitis and had surgery. The place was clearly running below capacity. There were three patients in isolation for COVID. They were not in any way placed in the proximity to other patients. Of whom there were very few.

My mom is an immigrant, and she doesn’t have enough English to read Montreal Gazette. And that’s great because she hadn’t seen any of the lying stories that spread panic. As soon as she felt abdominal pain, she went to the ER. And now she is well.

But imagine how many people read this coverage, believe the lies and decide not to go to the ER, putting their lives at risk.

Shame on you, Aaron Derfel. You are a liar and a hack. You are also a bad human being.

Book Notes: The Last Chapters of Kai-fu Lee’s Book

… were a painful, boring slog. And I couldn’t skip ahead because I was doing the book on Audible and didn’t see the text.

To cut a long and excruciating story short, Kai-fu Lee was going on his merry way, making megabucks developing AI, when suddenly he got diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. As many people do in that situation, he realized that he had wasted his life on being a money-hungry dickwad who only cared about work.

He found religion (sorta), started treating his poor long-suffering wife better, and even stopped being a total jerk to his kids. That’s when he realized that the most important thing in the world is loooooooove. And loooooove, incidentally, will help people overcome the joblessness that AI will bring.

Lee goes on in the next two chapters to explain how loooooooove will help the jobless. At this point, the book gets extremely repetitive and circular. The prescriptions Lee rolls out are embarrassingly ancient. They’ve existed for sixty years and I’d think people would have gotten over them by now. The government will slap gigantic taxes on the Jeff Bezoses of the world and use the money to pay parents to raise their kids. And it will all be structured like a career, with promotions and certifications! Or you can volunteer! Or raise your own kids for money! Or volunteer! Or even, I don’t know, volunteer, or something like that! Or help people live lifestyles that offset global warming! As a volunteer!

This could have been a much better book if Lee stayed in his wheelhouse and talked about AI instead of trying to save the world by proposing global spiritual breakthroughs.

Computer Help Needed

Is it a mistake to charge small devices through the USB ports on my desktop? I think I somehow fried the desktop by charging my reading lamp through the USB. Now when the desktop starts to boot up, it tells me that I’m using the wrong USB port and shuts down. Obviously, I’ve taken everything out of the USB ports.

Weaknesses in Kai-fu Lee’s Argument

One thing that I want to mention about Kai-fu Lee’s AI Superpowers is that the examples he gives of the supposedly amazing AI breakthroughs in China are surprisingly few and unimpressive. He keeps repeating the same three things because that’s all there is.

This isn’t a criticism of China. For now, at least, AI brings no discernible benefit or “convenience,” as the evangelists call it, to the users. All it does is facilitate spying on them. Kai-fu Lees of this world benefit from it but the users don’t. “Smart homes” aren’t more convenient, recommendation algorithms aren’t more precise, and the destruction of computers in favor of apps is a huge inconvenience.

Here are the 3 “big AI achievements” of China that Kai-fu Lee keeps listing:

1. The use of QR codes to pay for everything. He gives an example of paying street vendors with your phone. There aren’t crowds of street vendors in the West, so who cares. But the idea of using micropayments to show appreciation for favorite online authors is great. I’d definitely pay 10-15 cents for online articles I like if it’s done on a voluntary basis.

2. Another favorite example of Lee’s is the enormous number of bicycles available for rent through your phone all over Beijing. Again, this is something that exists in the West but isn’t massively used not because the West doesn’t have the technology – it’s really not that sophisticated of a thing – but because everybody drives, and nobody is fit enough to do a lot of biking around big cities. How people manage to bike through Beijing, with its horrid air and unbearable stench, is a whole other discussion.

3. And then there’s the issue of mega apps that let you “do everything without ever leaving the app.” I already wrote about this, so I won’t repeat myself. Really not that impressive.

The huge and impressive things that AI does can’t be revealed to consumers because consumers won’t like them. And the whole narrative of “yes, you get spied on but look at the benefits!” falls flat because there are no benefits.

But even if we take Kai-fu Lee’s argument completely uncritically, it still doesn’t work. He says that China’s great advantage is that it has a larger population than the US and that population uses data-gathering apps a lot more. So more information is gathered. But it’s information on Chinese users. Which, as Kai-fu Lee explained at length, cannot be extrapolated onto anybody else because of cultural differences. And unlike the US, China hasn’t made its culture globally attractive. If anything, it’s done the opposite.

Kai-fu Lee’s AI Superpowers, Chapter 4

Here’s something worth noticing. Kai-fu Lee is obviously the exact opposite of me and he stands for everything I dislike. Ideologically, he’s an anti-me. But I think he’s a good person who is well-meaning and worth listening to. I don’t want him to be chased out of public life, silenced, hounded, or shamed. I want to read his book and understand his ideas, even though I very much disagree with them. And I want more people to read the book and engage in a polite, curious discussion about it.

This is real diversity. I don’t think Lee’s opinion is valuable because he’s “a person of color.” I think it’s valuable because he’s an intelligent person who has had a lot of success in his field and who clearly thought and learned a lot to come by his ideas.

I wish this position were more accessible to other people.

As for the chapter itself, I have two observations. One is that Lee criticizes the US for not being as free-market capitalistic as China. This is only surprising if one still thinks that Communist parties and the socialist states they rule are about the economy. They aren’t and never were. Very few things actually are. Lenin, as you might remember, easily embraced the free market in the 1920s when it was convenient.

Another observation is that by the end of chapter 4 it becomes clear that China will never overtake the US. You can’t win if you embrace a loser narrative. To explain, imagine if you asked me about my research, and I started explaining that my research is great and definitely better than that of the stupid, ridiculous X. And then in response to every question about what I actually did, I’d keep going off on a tangent about how what X is doing is all wrong. And in the meantime, X would barely notice that I exist and, instead, would concentrate on her work. Who’d be more successful in the end? The person who works on her research because she loves it or the person who only does it to prove that a competitor she’s obsessed with sucks?

Lee’s anti-US passion is very familiar. It’s the organizing, identity-building discourse not only in China but also in Russia. I’ve grown up immersed in it, and I know that it’s a road to nowhere. Sinking so much of your energy to prove something to somebody who doesn’t know you exist is blinding and debilitating. A collective narcissistic wound needs to be healed.

I’m hoping the narrative will move along in chapter 5 because the pouting of the narcissistically wounded is getting tiresome.

Coffee and Liqueur in the USSR

A Soviet ad from 1939 says, “it’s nice to drink coffee with liqueur.”

It’s funny how there was never a dream in the USSR loftier than a bourgeois lifestyle. Millions of people were starved, imprisoned and killed by 1939 for this dream and still nobody had coffee with liqueur out of a pretty set.

Kai-fu Lee’s AI Superpowers, Chapter 3

In this chapter, Kai-fu Lee explains how the love for centralization and deference to authority impact China’s digital revolution.

The government in China knew that it would take the tradition-loving Chinese people decades to become interested in tech. So it made techie startups attractive both psychologically and financially by investing in them. Psychologically, people felt better about working for a startup if it was, at least in part, a government job. Financially, the government ate the losses of such investments and when there was a win, passed in most of the profit to private owners.

Here Lee once again demonstrates that he understands China but not the US. He says that this kind of government involvement is something that Americans can’t imagine. But he’s wrong. According to his own classification, the US invests in an almost identical way into what gives it its best strength, education. Lee started the book by pointing out that the Chinese are great at executing while Americans are great at doing the R&D. So he should be able to make the leap and see the parallel between Americans loving goods mass-produced in China and the Chinese loving the US education. (And obviously each side bitches incessantly about the other’s product while still consuming it obsessively).

Another interesting point about centralization is that Lee believes that the biggest advantage of the Chinese digital platforms is that they offer “a one-stop shop” like the US giants Facebook and Twitter don’t. The Chinese version of Facebook, he says, not only lets you chat to friends but pay for goods, set up medical appointments, get medical test results, etc. Lee clearly thinks it’s a great thing – and I’m sure it is for the owners of the platform – but I wouldn’t want to connect my bank account and my medical records to my FB account. I don’t believe there’s a great hunger for centralization in the US. People seem quite comfortable with their different apps for different things.

Throughout this book, Lee’s very interesting and valuable argument is undermined by his contempt for and lack of understanding of the US. Not surprisingly, he constantly berates the US for its contempt for and lack of understanding of China.

Kai-fu Lee’s AI Superpowers: Chapter 2

Kai-fu Lee offers an enlightening explanation in how American digital platforms fail in China by disregarding cultural differences. The Chinese don’t, for instance, use search engines like Westerners. There’s a lot of data showing that they have very different search patterns (and Lee has fascinating cultural and historical explanations for why that is). But it’s impossible to explain that to Americans who are full on “everybody is completely identical to everybody else, and to think otherwise is racism.” So US companies fail in China, and Chinese versions of huge US platforms arise in their place.

So far so good.

However, right after delivering this crucial point, Lee demonstrates that cultural differences are hard to understand for him, too. He makes a long and painful argument about how US companies aren’t motivated purely by profit. Instead, he says, they want to change the world and promote the values listed in their mission statements. This is why they aren’t as ruthlessly profit-seeking as their Chinese competitors.

At this point in the book, those of us who live in the US begin to experience fits of uncontrollable laughter. We know very well that those missions and values are a marketing trick. Nobody really cares. Of course, it’s all about profit. Lee takes the mission blabber of US companies at face value, which is a great demonstration of the power of cultural differences.

This chapter also has a great explanation of why Groupon, which was very dominant at some point in the past, faded from view so fast.

What I find interesting about Lee is that he’s obviously a member of deterritorialized supranational elites but he’s such a passionate nationalist that Trump seems very lukewarm in his pro-US rhetoric in comparison. It isn’t stupid, blind pride, though. Lee is very clear-eyed and honest. Maybe this unambiguous national pride is part of the reason why I’m inclined to like whatever he says.