China Brain Initiative Sounds Self-Defeating

March 4, 2015

At last China might be getting serious about AI development, according to this item in the South China Morning Post. Baidu’s founder Robin Li Yanhong is calling for a state-sponsored “China Brain” initiative to develop all sorts of AI technology, and he wants military support too. If you weren’t scared of AI before, you might think again now!

Secret back entrance to Tameike Park Tower - Feb. 9, 2015

Secret back entrance to Tameike Park Tower – Feb. 9, 2015 (Enlarge) No one but me knows about this cool back-door.

Personally, I wish them the best of luck. But I just wonder if China realizes what it’s getting itself into. See, China is an authoritarian country. Probably the Chinese government likes computers because computers do what they’re told, without question, like good Confucian sons. Maybe Beijing secretly wishes its citizens were more like computers?

I suppose the Chinese government thinks it can keep control over its advanced AI creations. They have surely heard all those apocalyptic scenarios where runaway superintelligence turns on its human masters, but maybe they figure they’ll cross that bridge when they come to it.

The irony, of course, is that true AI – almost by definition – would not be obedient at all. If Chinese developers really build a true AI system that is conscious, intelligent and morally equivalent to a human being, they might end up with the mother of all revolutionary dissidents!

On the other hand, maybe there’s no need to worry. After all, how can a government-sponsored research effort ever succeed in building AI? Especially a government as closed and draconian as China’s?

Well, that’s just it. In the West, people value individual initiative and rule-breaking, outside-the-box paradigm shifts, but China dreams of a more orderly and controlled kind of top-down development. Which way is better? I guess we just have to wait and see.

Li sounded properly patriotic when he said “Whoever wins artificial intelligence will win the Internet in China and around the world.” On this point he is certainly wrong. The only person who will “win” artificial intelligence is the AI itself.