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.

4 thoughts on “Book Notes: The Last Chapters of Kai-fu Lee’s Book”

  1. Though I have a copy, I have to admit that I simply haven’t been able to finish reading it as it seemed rather shallow. Just my opinion but it has the feel of a largely ghost written book. I guess if you make enough money, one way or another, you don’t have to do your own writing.

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  2. “Kai-fu Lee”

    It would be interesting to compare and contrast his approach with that of Chris Arnade who had a similar come-to-jesus moment after working in finance….

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    1. That’s a great analogy because there’s an important difference between the two that I think is probably cultural.

      Both realized that the things that enriched them are impoverishing many people. Arnade then went and met such people, talked to them, listened, looked them in the face.

      Kai-fu Lee never did anything like it. To him, the dispossessed masses remained an abstraction, which is why his prescriptions are so impractical and unimpressive.

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  3. I’m so sorry these chapters were so painful and boring for you! I don’t do Audible; I seem to learn and retain information so much better if I read rather than listen, and there’s also the ability to go back and reread or skip ahead (like you said). I also love diagrams, flow charts, etc. for explaining things and he has some pretty nifty charts illustrating various professions and the effect of AI on them.

    I completely agree with you that his solutions are nothing new and won’t work. I see the appeal of the solutions you propose (nation-states rather than globalization). The main problem with any approach, though, seems to be getting everyone to agree. Taking the USA as an example, large corporations will obviously fight for the ability to manufacture products in poor countries with low labor costs and few protections (for processes that haven’t been automated yet). Some people will advocate for increased immigration whether out of misguided belief that this benefits everyone or because of wanting cheap labor. Others will want companies to manufacture products in the US and hire them and pay them well to do so, but won’t want to pay more than they currently do for things manufactured in China or with robots without much human involvement.

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