Artificial Intelligence (AI) Super-Powers shocks the reader and wakes him up to a new world; a world of dramatic changes, global realignments and socio-psychological challenges. We are not facing the ‘end of the world’, but it is the end of today’s world. And what’s scarier is that this future is already here although the author gives us about 20 more years to see it implemented.
The author is an ethnic Chinese born in Taiwan and raised and educated in the United States. He is a leader in Artificial Intelligence and is preoccupied with the applications and consequences of the new technology. In his opinion, the world has moved from the age of theoretical discovery to the age of practical applications and from the age of expertise to the age of data. AI is the energy of the new age and it marks the beginning of a new revolution. Resort to artificial intelligence or be left behind!
Artificial intelligence is driven by deep learning. Human abilities are very limited in discerning complex signs, signals and various correlations. Machines can do a much better job. Deep learning refers to a myriad of nuances in our reaction to different situations that are processed and interpreted by machines. Then, by using complex algorithms, machines spot the most common patterns, make decisions and predictions better than humans do, and apply them to real life situations. The patterns of data are now decisive in determining the accuracy of an algorithm. They are used for various economic activities and for financial profits. It is exactly what is happening now in China at a massive scale, in America more slowly, and to a lesser degree in the rest of the world. This is the future!
Facts: During the 18th and 19th Centuries the world went through the Industrial Revolution. During the 20th Century it underwent a High-Tech revolution. This Century is witnessing a new revolution driven by artificial intelligence! Machines endowed with AI and human-like perceptions are already doing a better job than humans in a range of fields with practical applications: Face and Speech Recognition, Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, Linguistic Translations, Insurance Policies, Granting Loans and others. It should be emphasized that according to informed people, if a new discovery is known to the public, it is already obsolete. And while researchers explore the future, businesses are reaping the benefits.
There are currently seven giants that dominate the world in the research and application of artificial intelligence. They are four American companies: Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft, and three Chinese ones: Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. Other big Chinese names are also coming of age. All these companies have developed their own applications and are vying for global domination. The United States is still ahead in the fields of research and innovation, but China is ahead in practical applications. Between the two there is a big difference. American companies are private while the Chinese companies are controlled by the government which is in the hands of the Communist Party.
For China investing in AI is not only of economic importance, but also of political and geo-political importance. By doing so, the government will have more control over its own people and internationally will claim a larger share of the globe. And China is getting ahead because the population is taking its cue from the government. In Addition, Beijing offers subsidies, investment funds, other facilities, and sets up special development zones for AI development. And when China mobilizes its people and resources, results follow suit. In 2007 China had no high-speed trains; ten years later China had more miles of high-speed trains than the entire rest of the world. It has been projected that by 2030 China will become the center of AI of the entire world. And from a techno-military point of view, China could transform economic development into geo-political advantages to the detriment of America.
Existing Applications. There are currently about 800 million people in China who have access to the internet. That means more people than in the United States and Europe together. Accordingly, Chinese companies ‘harvest’ each click of the internet user and find patterns of meaning in them. Then, intelligent machines interpret this huge database for correlations that escape the human eye and brain. Finally, specialized companies make practical use of this data. The result is that China is getting ahead in the AI field. (p. 110) For example, the invention of the Smart Phones has given many Chinese direct access to the internet without having to buy a desk computer. There are now more than 500 million smart phones in China and those phones are used for a vast range of operations. Their use has transformed ‘online actions into offline services’. Tencent, for example, developed a special super app called WeChat that has taken over the E-commerce in China.
With smart phones many Chinese pay their bills, shop for grocery, order food from restaurants, book their appointments, buy tickets, call taxicabs, send money everywhere, order presents and balance their checkbooks. WeChat has turned entire cities into cashless markets and have changed the urban life. Food ordering, for example, is now widespread and food is delivered hot and quick by hired people riding scooters provided by the IT companies. There are currently ten times more food deliveries in China than in the U.S. and paying by mobile phone is 50 times more often in China than in America. (p. 79)
Another Chinese success story is offered by Mobike. One can get a bike anywhere in a big city, unlock it with the bar code on a smart phone, pay by phone and leave the bike anywhere for the next user. ‘Traditional’ payment with credit cards requires a fee, is rather expensive and is already considered old-fashioned in China. Paying with a smart phone is easy, quick and there is no fee and no minimum payment either.
Face Recognition and Speech Translation are other two important fields of applied artificial intelligence. A KFC restaurant in China with an up-to-date face recognition app allows customers to pay by simply recognizing their faces and linking them to their smart phones. Payment and bank balancing are then done automatically on the spot. No additional cost!
Another amazing AI application is simultaneous speech translation. Recently, the Chinese program ‘iFlyTek’ translated almost to perfection president Trump’s speech. And it translated not only words and meanings, but also intonation, pitch, patterns and expressions as if he had been born in a Chinese village near Beijing. (p.105). Kai-Fu-Lee claims that ‘iFlyTek’ has already surpassed its giant American competitors in this field.
Upcoming Applications. The near future looks like a Sci-Fi movie… Based on your family habits, your refrigerator will notice what you need to buy. You go to a supermarket riding an autonomous car that parks itself in the best spot near the store. Then, you get a shopping cart that recognizes you and greets you by your name. That cart has already ‘communicated’ with your refrigerator and knows what you need to buy. The cart moves by itself in front of you and it takes you to the aisles that you need to visit. Then, it charges the merchandise to your smart phone and it takes the grocery to your car… This technology is here and it could become common practice very soon.
The new wave of artificial intelligence is blurring the line between the digital world of the computer and physical world around us. From being just automated, machines are becoming autonomous. And endowing them with human-like senses and perceptions could blur the line between humans and machines… For example, a medical doctor consulting a patient could access the global database for a certain illness. Then, a computer would establish with a high degree of accuracy both the diagnostic and the best treatment. Yet, who will be in charge, the doctor or the machine?
Current predictions foresee that in about ten years time machines could equal the intelligence of humans, and by 2045 super-intelligent machines may ‘dwarf the intelligence of humans’. Yet, the adoption of AI machines is inevitable and the process will have beneficial results as well as dire consequences. Benefits are mostly material and economic, but the chief consequence is that the very meaning of what is a human will be questioned. In fact, the names of two sub-chapters of the book speak volumes: A Grim Picture and The Incoming Crisis of Meaning.
Consequences. The main consequences of fully adopting intelligent machines are Economic, Socio-Political, Philosophical and Psychological. In the near future such machines will produce material goods quickly and cheaply, will make them available at low cost, and will pretty much ‘free’ man from labor. Socially, however, the new era will lead to major job losses, social stratification and massive inequality. The future magnates will amass astronomical wealth, but societies will only need a class of specialists and a number of unskilled workers. The rest of the population will be displaced, not needed and even unwanted. That will result in social disruption and political destabilization.
With regard to America, the author believes that as many as 20 to 40 percent of all U.S. jobs could be lost to artificial intelligence. Global implications will be even worse. Factories and production will likely relocate back in the developed countries to be closer to markets. That will deprive poor country of their most important assets: overpopulation and cheap labor. Consequently, the gap between global haves and have-nots will widen. Huge unemployment will pose socio-philosophical challenges for governments and psychological problems for individuals. Alarmingly, the author points out that once started, sooner than many of us expect, the social collapse will happen in a very short period of time. (p. 21)
Machines will change the current international political order, but it will also challenge every country internally… ‘Dangerous fault lines will emerge within each country and they will possess the power to tear them apart from inside.’ (p. 139) Accordingly, by 2040 we might face a total social disruption.
At a personal level, unemployed people with no hope of finding work would lose their meaning as human beings. People find purpose and fulfillment in their work and achievements. What is the purpose of life if we do not work anymore? Where will be our self-esteem? The author writes about freeing people from the chore of work, but for Christians this is against their core beliefs. We identify with work; redeem ourselves through it; get sense and dignity through our work; grow intellectually and find spiritual meaning through work… Loss of meaning and purpose will almost certainly lead to increased alcoholism, drug use, crime, suicide and a sense of personal futility. This could result in unending social riots, political upheaval and quasi-apocalyptic events.
To soften the future shock, some social scientists propose the introduction of a basic universal income, guaranteed by the government, for every citizen. Some European countries have already started pilot programs in this regard. Other scientists condition the guaranteed income on the pledge that receiving adults will have no children. That idea challenges again the very purpose of life. The author recommends a new Social Contract based on spiritual values, but given the very nature of man this idea is rather utopian.
Closing Considerations. If in the future the line between humans and intelligent machines will get blurred, question is: What does it mean to be human?…To be human means to have a soul and feelings; it means to love and to be loved; it means to be needed; it means to strive for personal achievements and for self-improvement; it means to assume risks; it means to feel for others and care for them..! Machines will never be able to have human feelings regardless of how super-intelligent they might become. If only people were wise enough to make the right choices!