Peter Thiel is a classic in people you should know about but possibly don’t. He helped get PayPal and LinkedIn started and he tries to think about where new tech is taking us. He spoke at COSM 2022 on that topic and he mentions a book that should set us thinking:
The high-level question I want to ask today is, basically, how should we think about AI? Should we think of it as intelligent, conscious, or merely evil?
The book that I think is interesting is that of Wang Huning, who’s the number four guy in the entire communist government [of China]. He’s sort of the professor and theorist of Xi Jinping thought. And he wrote this book [about his trip into the United States] 32 years ago, America versus America.
It’s basically a roadmap for how to derange our society by heightening these sort of Hegelian contradictions. And I would submit that if you go with the full intentional version, TikTok is basically a weapon that’s designed to derange us through decentralized and heightened contradictions. And, of course, this particular AI is up against another self-destructive communist Chinese AI, which is the centralized one that’s being imposed on China itself. And basically, you have perfect face recognition. Everybody knows they’re being monitored… There is sort a important way in which China has become North Korea.
Further to what Peter Thiel is saying, here’s what AI can actually do now in China today:
One day in August 2021, Zhao Wei disappeared. For one of China’s best-known actresses to physically vanish from public view would have been enough to cause a stir on its own. But Zhao’s disappearing act was far more thorough: overnight, she was erased from the internet. Her Weibo social media page, with its 86 million followers, went offline, as did fan sites dedicated to her. Searches for her many films and television shows returned no results on streaming sites. Zhao’s name was scrubbed from the credits of projects she had appeared in or directed, replaced with a blank space. Online discussions uttering her name were censored. Suddenly, little trace remained that the 45-year-old celebrity had ever existed.
She wasn’t alone. Other Chinese entertainers also began to vanish as Chinese government regulators announced a “heightened crackdown” intended to dispense with “vulgar internet celebrities” promoting lascivious lifestyles and to “resolve the problem of chaos” created by online fandom culture. Those imitating the effeminate or androgynous aesthetics of Korean boyband stars—colorfully referred to as “xiao xian rou,” or “little fresh meat”—were next to go, with the government vowing to “resolutely put an end to sissy men” appearing on the screens of China’s impressionable youth.
Zhao and her unfortunate compatriots in the entertainment industry were caught up in something far larger than themselves: a sudden wave of new government policies that are currently upending Chinese life in what state media has characterized as a “profound transformation” of the country.
– N. S. Lyons. “The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning”, Palladium, (October 11, 2021).
Peter Thiel went on to warn about how AI is transforming the face of totalitarianism in China, from boot to smiley-face with boot as a backup:
Those of us who are anti-communists tended to conflate that it was a communist country 10 years ago and is now. But there is a way in which the AI technology, the surveillance technology, has really, really transformed. It’s not AGI, in many versions, it’s barely AI at all. It’s just sort of … big data on this. This is what Kai-Fu Lee talks about too, that China will win at AI through these big data algorithms. It’s not about the sort of cutting edge, futuristic set of the people in Silicon Valley; talk about things about TikTok or what China has done to themselves.
One way to think of the rivalry between the US and China is that it’s sort of a question which society will be destroyed faster by the somewhat dystopian AI that’s being imposed on it. And we could have a long debate about that.
Kai-fu Lee has authored a number of books, including AI Superpowers, which examines the role of the US and China in the future of artificial intelligence as well as its impact on society.
You may also wish to read: Peter Thiel also thinks that talk of the multiverse is a “gateway drug” to other crazy ideas, like the belief we live in a simulation. “[I]f we say the simulation hypothesis is kind of crazy on some level, is it really crazier than the multiverse…?”