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.