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.

4 thoughts on “Kai-fu Lee’s AI Superpowers, Chapter 4”

  1. Regarding Kai-fu Lee’s AI … volume. I must qualify that I haven’t read it. I haven’t read all the reviewed chapters. I would be unaware of the book were it not for this blog, and I’m really usually quite aware of what is happening in the scholarly world. I’ve looked at what I could find about the author and that explains why I hadn’t heard of him. He appears very connected/selected in the MIC world and I tend to see those types more as agents, serving a particular purpose, or providing a specific “favoured” opinion or historical re-write. These are Ad Hominem observations I admit. I may see if I can cope with reading some of it. I don’t want to slam the book only to discover that my comments apply to what reviewer Clarissa has written ‘about’ the book, rather than the book’s content. I don’t want to review the review.

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    1. This is definitely a book written for the world of business, not the world of scholarship. But these books can be very useful to scholars. I’m thinking of doing research in this area (through literature, of course), and it’s important to stay abreast of what’s happening.

      Thank you for noticing the review! These are my favorite posts of mine.

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  2. I have obtained a copy of Kai-fu Lee’s book now that our public library is open. And I’ve read only through the first page, but I must quote from the very first paragraph of the introduction. Can’t resist:
    “One of the obligations that comes with my work as a venture-capital (VC) investor is that I often give speeches about artificial intelligence (AI) to members of the global business and political elite. One of the joys of my work is that I sometimes get to talk about that very same topic with kindergarteners. Surprisingly, these two distinctly different audiences often ask me the same kind of questions.”

    Well, that’s because the “global business and political elite” have the mentalities of kindergarteners. No surprise there!

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