AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, by Kai-Fu Lee ISBN 9781328546395
Five out of five stars
This may be the most significant non-fiction book published in 2018. Lee sets down a set of scenarios where there will be two superpower countries in the world, China and the United States. Unlike past situations of a bipolar world where there were two powerful nations, the power in this case will be based on the possession of high-scale artificial intelligence (AI).
Lee envisions an unprecedented concentration of economic power in a small number of countries as well as people. As coming events such as self-driving trucks and robots replacing workers in everything from factories to fast-food restaurants are nearly certain, Lee also predicts a wave of unemployment unlike anything seen before. Where the jobs disappear and there will be little to no opportunity to be retrained.
On page 164 there is the line, “Within ten to twenty years, I estimate we will be technically capable of automating 40 to 50 percent of jobs in the United States.” Later on the same page, he concedes that new jobs will be created and cites a study conducted by Bain and Company that by 2030 employers will need 20 to 25 percent fewer employees.
What is significant is that these job losses would be permanent and international in scope. Unlike modern outsourcing, where jobs are sent to other countries with lower wages, raising their standard of living and leading to increased international trade, these jobs will simply disappear from the planet. The new measure of production will be how many jobs are being replaced by the people that design, program, build and service the robots. Specifically the ratio of jobs lost to jobs gained.
Yet, the direst prediction is about the potential for the concentration of economic power in China and the United States as a consequence of their potential near-monopoly on the effective use of AI. Lee cites the tremendous power of the giant technology companies such as Alphabet and Facebook, worth billions of dollars based on the collection, processing and understanding of data. He envisions other countries becoming the equivalent of servants to the two mighty powers.
As a long-term college professor that has taught artificial intelligence courses, this is one of the most frightening books that I have ever read. That is because what Lee envisions is possible and there is a great deal of evidence to support his predictions for the future of the world.