AI Superpowers: China, Silicone Valley, and the New World Order by Kai-fu Lee is so interesting that I want to share it chapter by chapter. Lee explains artificial intelligence very clearly and makes his argument forcefully. He’s a passionate Chinese nationalist but I don’t blame him. Everybody is a passionate nationalist except for a few boring progressives in the West. Lee exaggerates China’s positives but it’s quite refreshing against the background of the self-deprecating Westerners I meet in a academia.
China awakened to artificial intelligence ten years after the West, says Kai-fu Lee. In 2016, when the Chinese finally noticed that AI was a big deal, the gigantic intellectual breakthrough that made AI possible had already been accomplished by Americans.
Still, says Lee, China will be the biggest beneficiary of the AI revolution. It doesn’t have the brilliant researchers and intellectuals like the US does. But this doesn’t matter because the invention stage is behind us. Currently, we are in the implementation stage where the spectacular breakthroughs accomplished by the Americans aren’t being taken deeper but, rather, wider.
China, says Lee, has no genius inventors but it has what matters more in this stage of AI’s development. Here are the factors that will give it unbeatable advantage:
1. It’s not constrained by copyright restrictions and the Western belief that copying somebody else’s product is dishonorable
2. It has access to tons of data because of a larger and more compliant population, and having more data matters more at this stage than having brilliant minds
3. A government that has no qualms in pushing the world of business and research in a direction it finds useful
4. Hungrier entrepreneurs that move faster and work harder than self-congratulating and smug (sluggish, Lee calls them) Silicone Valley people.
At first, says Lee, China simply copied the US. There was “Chinese Facebook, Chinese Twitter, etc.” But that’s no longer the case. Quantity has turned into quality, and China has used its massive access to data to create much more competent AI systems. Now China is ready to make its TicToc and Co conquer the world.
Whoever gets to impose their tech gets to impose their values, says Lee. China has seethed under the cultural dominance of the US that has been the result of its tech dominance. Now it’s time for China to dominate. Of course, China isn’t really planning to impose its values, says Lee with the degree of sincerity I’ll let everybody here determine for themselves.
Forget tech, though, and forget values, says Lee. In the next 15-25 years, 40-50% of jobs in the US will be wiped out by AI. This is the real big deal in this story.
P.S. Usually, I write “book notes,” not reviews, which means that I share ideas of my own that my readings provoke. However, I don’t know enough about AI or China to have ideas. This is why I keep repeating “says Lee.” I don’t usually retell because it bores me but here I’m doing nothing but retelling.