Lee grapples with the dark side of artificial intelligence, exploring job losses and the loss of self-worth when people discover that they have been replaced by machines. But Lee’s concerns about AI are not limited to the dystopian vision of humans mastered by smart robots. His chief worry, which makes a lot of sense, is that AI will exacerbate global inequality ... Despite these warnings, Lee’s book is ultimately optimistic, and not for the reasons you would think. The latter part takes a deeply personal turn ... Confronting his mortality made him realize the limits of machine-like thinking, and the importance of family and love. The lesson for Lee is that robots cannot replace basic human compassion. These personal insights aside, Lee’s book is fundamentally about the interplay between the United States and China in the world of artificial intelligence and technology more generally. Not everyone will agree with Lee’s rosy assessment of China’s tech culture, which turns many of Silicon Valley’s stated beliefs upside down. China’s approach has drawbacks, and it’s way too early to say that the Chinese model has 'won.' But Lee is right to point out that Chinese tech companies must be taken seriously.
His new book, AI Superpowers, is both a provocative and readable distillation of the conventional wisdom on AI supremacy, as well as a challenge to it ... the book implicitly raises an important question—is AI innovation best suited to an environment of decentralization, or centralization? ... Lee introduces a personal note, sharing his struggle with lymphoma, which made him question his workaholic tendencies. While his writing on that topic veers towards the maudlin, the point—there’s no algorithm for a life well spent—is well taken in a world ever more focused on cold, mathematical efficiency.
AI Superpowers is really two books. The first half of the book, a discussion of AI and the U.S. and Chinese companies competing for advantage, is extremely accessible and informative. The second half, which delves into the economic implications of AI, reinforces my belief that computer scientists should stick to computer science and leave economics to economists ... While he sees AI as being an important innovation, he also rightly throws cold water on the technology-distopians who claim that super-AI that is superior to humans—think The Terminator—is science fiction and at best (or worst) a long way off ... He rightly claims that Chinese tech entrepreneurs are more aggressive than U.S. ones. But there is a fine line between aggression and cheating. For example, Lee praise Chinese entrepreneurs for 'copying,' making it sound endearing as when he calls the Chinese 'copykittens.' But what he calls copying is in many cases theft ... Lee glosses over how much of what China is doing...violates the letter, if not the spirit of the World Trade Organization ... Reading the first half of AI Superpowers leads one to be optimistic, although if the reader is American to be worried that China will beat us. Reading the second half leads one to be scared out of one’s mind and demand that government through a monkey wrench into the AI machine.
AI Superpowers is one of those good books with bad titles. This is a book that is tempting to pass over because its cover makes it sound sensationalistic and shallow. The contents of the book are neither ... If you can get past the title, what you will find is a fascinating story of how both Chinese and US companies are leveraging narrow AI to build the next generation of world-changing companies ... The description that Lee provides of the fundamentals and potential impact of artificial intelligence is among the best that I’ve encountered. His focus is on narrow AI, and the incredible advances in this technology made possible by deep learning ... While I learned a great deal from AI Superpowers, the book does have its blindspots. While I enjoyed reading about the rough and tumble Chinese startup culture (no nap pods or free meals), I was surprised that Lee seems untroubled by China’s political system. Lee points out that China can mobilize large-scale investments in new technologies. What he fails to mention is the brittleness of a society that lacks basic individual freedoms of expression and dissent. Lee lives and works in China, and I’m certain that his unwillingness to critique the Chinese government has everything to do with how much control the government exerts in every sector of the economy. This uncritical stance towards the Chinese government ultimately weakens Lee’s case that China is better poised than the US to navigate the coming AI revolution.