When Chinese and American AI rule the world
June 30, 2017 12:10 PM   Subscribe

A new geopolitics based on emerging tech. After sharing some commonplaces about AI, Kai-Fu Lee (Carnegie Mellon, Microsoft, Google China, now venture capital) offers an intriguing idea. Maybe China and the United States will evolve into new forms of planetary hegemons thanks to their AI supremacy.

Tracy Mitrano (Cornell, University of Massachusetts) thinks this might work for China, but wonders if the US is actually prepared for such a role.
posted by doctornemo (20 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
As for what form that social welfare would take, I would argue for a conditional universal basic income: welfare offered to those who have a financial need, on the condition they either show an effort to receive training that would make them employable or commit to a certain number of hours of “service of love” voluntarism. (emphasis added)

It's not voluntarism if it's a condition of receiving a basic income. That's the creation of a low-wage servant class. Given the extremely low class mobility in the US, that's likely to become a caste more than a class. And given the racial income gap, that caste is likely going to be disproportionately non-white.

Fuck. That.
posted by jedicus at 12:42 PM on June 30 [22 favorites]


It's not voluntarism if it's a condition of receiving a basic income.

This strikes me as a very reductive view on the author's larger point. It doesn't matter if you want to call it voluntarism or not, these type of changes are necessary and inevitable, and most of us will be better off if we can undertake these changes in a coordinated manner. The alternative is to make AI illegal, which I don't see as a viable option.
posted by Alex404 at 12:50 PM on June 30 [2 favorites]


Maybe China and the United States will evolve into new forms of planetary hegemons thanks to their AI supremacy.

I look forward to cooperation between Oceania and Eastasia in the effort to crush Eurasia. Together our two nations can strike a massive blow and bring the war within measurable distance of its end!
posted by infinitewindow at 1:24 PM on June 30 [5 favorites]


My friends and I talk about this all the time. We're all in school working towards potential careers that may not exist one day because of AI. It's depressing to be working towards something that will probably not be a viable job in the future before we've even started working. I know it's in the future still, but it's envitably something we worry about because we just want an INCOME and job security. We joke all the time that we should escape it all, move to the middle of nowhere and live in isolation and self sufficiency except none of us know the first thing about building shelters or growing our own food.

But maybe we should learn because this new world dominated by AI sounds awful. I know the article says that it won't be like the sci-fi movies, but it kind of does. It sounds like we're all going to be beholden to the AI overlords and everything else is just going to fade away. What if an AI parent company decides they don't like democracy and won't give welfare subsidies to countries who are democratic?

Time to get cracking on my gardening skills?
posted by cyml at 1:30 PM on June 30 [2 favorites]


It doesn't matter if you want to call it voluntarism or not, these type of changes are necessary and inevitable, and most of us will be better off if we can undertake these changes in a coordinated manner.

It does matter because it affects the framing of the discussion. After all, voluntarism, service, and love, are all good things! Who could argue with the government supporting people who voluntarily perform "services of love"?

That obfuscation makes it more difficult to discuss more important issues like a universal basic income versus the creation of a permanent servant underclass. Or whether private capital is even a good model for an economy in which wealth is so hyper-concentrated.
posted by jedicus at 1:31 PM on June 30 [5 favorites]


If AI makes most people redundant and irrelevant, then AI is an existential threat to humanity.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:38 PM on June 30 [2 favorites]


It's not voluntarism if it's a condition of receiving a basic income.

I think the phrase you're looking for is Class D Personnel.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:48 PM on June 30 [4 favorites]


It's not voluntarism if it's a condition of receiving a basic income.

This strikes me as a very reductive view on the author's larger point. It doesn't matter if you want to call it voluntarism or not, these type of changes are necessary and inevitable, and most of us will be better off if we can undertake these changes in a coordinated manner. The alternative is to make AI illegal, which I don't see as a viable option.
I disagree. The author seems to be saying that we can't rely on people who have their basic needs met to help other people with greater needs without relying on force. This doesn't acknowledge that there are motivating factors beyond either naked greed or fear. Communities come together all the time to fill the voids left by the government or business. My father opened an injured workers' support group that eventually became a huge undertaking networked with similar groups across the province because neither the government nor the businesses were meeting their legal or ethical obligations; they didn't do it because they were getting paid, they did it because people were hurting and it had to be done. The limitations on these ad hoc groups tend to be time and money. People who want to give either of those things usually can't or won't because if they give their time they can't work enough to meet their own needs, or if they give their money they may not have enough left over to meet those needs. That's not selfishness or greed: it's much harder to help someone else when you don't have a full belly, warm boots, and a dry bed. Nearly every other problem--labour, resources, space--is a function of one of those other two. If the basic needs of the population are already met then there are dramatically fewer barriers to making these groups happen.

I don't want to imply that I think everything would magically be sunshine and puppies under a UBI; some people are just assholes and are never going to help out, some people will have more to contribute to other areas of society, some simply won't be able to, and some people might be well-intentioned but will simply make things worse. Some people (like me) will likely fall into all four of those categories one way or another; I want everyone to be free from want and to participate in civic life, but I also don't want every damn thing that needs doing to turn into the 21st century version of a barn raising; most of the time I'm content to let the experts do their thing and say thanks in whatever way my society deems appropriate. I'm not sure what the solution is, but reinforcing--indeed, strengthening--an abusive class system doesn't seem like any kind of ethical option to me.
posted by Fish Sauce at 1:48 PM on June 30 [6 favorites]


Time to get cracking on my gardening skills?

Too late.
posted by octothorpe at 1:51 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


Means testing might not be the greatest evil of the 20th and 21st centuries, but it is certainly an evil. TPTB would have us believe that it is a necessary evil, but necessary to whose ends?

I'm very much in line with jedicus and Fish Sauce on this. "Mandatory volunteerism" is an oxymoron. So is "conditional universal basic income".

The practical result of creating a society that runs on "mandatory volunteerism" as the precondition for receiving "conditional universal basic income" is that you create a servant class subject to the whims of those who decide what the conditions are and what forms of volunteerism are acceptable. This is not necessarily better than allowing capital to decide what forms of labor are worth compensating. It's not even necessarily different, considering that the political apparatus in most of the world has been captured by capital.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:00 PM on June 30 [11 favorites]


This strikes me as a very reductive view on the author's larger point. It doesn't matter if you want to call it voluntarism or not, these type of changes are necessary and inevitable, and most of us will be better off if we can undertake these changes in a coordinated manner. The alternative is to make AI illegal, which I don't see as a viable option.
Alex404

No, the alternative is truly universal basic income without this work requirement. Everyone gets a basic income regardless of "need" or having to work for it. This will free more people to be able to do things like become entrepreneurs because they will be able to take more risks, which is apparently the highest form of human existence.

I've always despised human garbage like this author who just can't conceive of a person receiving support without squeezing some work out of them.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:38 PM on June 30 [3 favorites]


I think the phrase you're looking for is Class D Personnel.

I think Friend Computer prefers the term "Infrared Citizens." Bearing in mind there's always openings for promotion
posted by happyroach at 2:42 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


I agree that UBI is a good target. I was only trying to make the point that I don't think the article is really about the details of the economy of the AI-dominated future, and my impression is that if someone argued to the author that no-strings-attached UBI is importantly better than the alternative, I assume that they would concede the point.

I think what the article says about our geopolitical future is interesting, and that leaping on the one sentence about conditional UBI is reductive, but maybe I'm being overly charitable.
posted by Alex404 at 3:36 PM on June 30 [2 favorites]


Does anyone have good readings of AI from an intersectional, queer feminist, leftist, anti-capitalist perspective? I'm learning how to code and am planning on going to an AI conference soon, but honestly, all this talk of AI has me completely overwhelmed.

also lol awkward being a 2nd generation Chinese American, I guess I should've gone to Chinese school
posted by yueliang at 3:40 PM on June 30 [2 favorites]


I could see the United States Government not having much of a role, while North Americans do have prominent roles. People are talking about Zuckerberg making these trips and such to prepare for an attempt at the Presidency, and that could be it... or maybe it's preparation for a time to come when Zuckerberg doesn't need the Presidency.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:10 PM on June 30


I always tend to wonder if a UBI is just a workaround to avoid sharing capital ownership with the rest of society. Democracy a cynic might say functions the same way, a sort of pablum constructed of an illusion of political power, (or maybe not quite illusion but a weaker form of power than owning capital in a capitalist system.)
posted by Pembquist at 5:27 PM on June 30 [3 favorites]


Does anyone have good readings of AI from an intersectional, queer feminist, leftist, anti-capitalist perspective?

This is from a guy who does AI stuff.

To my knowledge, there's not a great literature out there on that. There are women in AI who are feminists and all, but they themselves are not leftists and not anticapitalists. Some anticapitalist non-feminists, and all that.

To a first and probably a second approximation, nobody gets into production AI without going through academia. Like, real academia, go get a damn degree or, more realistically, bachelors, master's at a real good school. If you want to make actual contributions to the literature, PHD and a good postdoc. So it is, although capitalist, not exactly Reaganist FYGM-land out there.

I don't know how the non-technical critique literature is. There are critiques from a technically knowledgeable point of view from the philosophy literature, but it's the... like... dead or old white dudes philosophy literature. I don't know many of the kind of philosopher you're probably looking for who can code and who can actually do math. They write, sure. I don't believe that it's a strict prerequisite that you need to be conversant in what the AI technologies are to write about them, but, you know, there's a risk of basically writing science fiction if you're not conversant and if you don't understand the damned technology. One of the productive paths to that sort of thing is Sherry Turkle and her numerous academic offshoots, she knows what she's talking about, even if she's mostly interested in something only close to the problem. A. Adam has a "Feminist Critique of AI" that aged like milk, and a few other critiques at that time that critiqued knowledge representation shit.

Based upon my knowledge of the English-language Chinese AI literature, the prospects of Chinese hegemony, even shared, over AI are... not incredible. Chinese-American and non-PRC Chinese, maybe. (That guy's Taiwanese, right?) If you nuked Silicon Valley, SF, certain parts of New York, and certain parts of LA, you would get 80% of the production machine learning experience on Earth, even the experience of ostensibly Chinese companies.

AI technologies cannot avoid being technologies of credit assignment. They're fundamentally economic algorithms anyways. (At the same time that it remains a fundamentally logical problem because this shit is all CSPs, at the same time that it remains a fundamentally computational problem because they're big hard CSPs, at the same time that it remains a fundamentally physical problem because computational systems are dynamical systems, etc etc) This is, basically, to a first approximation, the only lasting contribution Minsky actually made towards AI, so you might as well go as far with it as you can.

Avoid the singularitarians, they're idiots and/or scum. If you'd like, get onto the Something Awful mock thread about them, it's great
posted by hleehowon at 6:56 PM on June 30 [8 favorites]


PHD student I know swears that the English-language Chinese AI literature is the best they have, and that seems to be generally true (because you can publish internationally, and that's prestige). I'll eat my words when the Chinese get a NIPS or ICML-level conference or journal or whatever together
posted by hleehowon at 7:06 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


It doesn't matter if you want to call it voluntarism or not, these type of changes are necessary and inevitable, and most of us will be better off if we can undertake these changes in a coordinated manner.

No, the alternative is truly universal basic income without this work requirement. Everyone gets a basic income regardless of "need" or having to work for it.

I think these responses, like the article, is rather naive. It might come about in social democracies such as Europe, but in libertarian-capitalist societies such as the US, the trend is exactly in the opposite direction. We must consider the highly likely libertarian result of extensive automation: 30-50% of the American populace unemployed and living in abject poverty in favelas, kept under control by a violent and brutal police force backed by extensive armed drone networks; this group circulates with the 20% of the population engaged in unpaid labor in the for-profit prison system; 30% of the population working in poverty struggling to maintain housing; 15% having something recognizably like a middle class lifestyle. All supported by a consolidated propaganda/news system that serves the .1%.

You assume that even though humans may have their contributions to society replaced by automation, they still are entitled to the resources to live simply based on being human. Which is a notion that I agree with, but is anathema to half the American populace, including those with the power and resources.
posted by happyroach at 3:58 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


In addition to the above oxymorons, I would like to point out that any act done ostensibly out of love but for some motivation other than love (e.g. money) is not love.
posted by koavf at 12:18 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]


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