53 pages 1 hour read

Kai-Fu Lee

AI Superpowers

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2018

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Important Quotes

Quotation Mark Icon

“During a recent visit to a Beijing kindergarten, a gaggle of five-year-olds grilled me about our AI future. ‘Are we going to have robot teachers?’ ‘What if one robot car bumps into another robot car and then we get hurt?’ ‘Will people marry robots and have babies with them?’ ‘Are computers going to become so smart that they can boss us around?’ ‘If robots do everything, then what are we going to do?’ These kindergarteners’ questions echoed queries posed by some of the world’s most powerful people, and the interaction was revealing in several ways. First, it spoke to how AI has leapt to the forefront of our minds. […] Finally, during my back-and-forth with those young students, I stumbled on a deeper truth: when it comes to understanding our AI future, we’re all like those kindergartners. We’re all full of questions without answers, trying to peer into the future with a mixture of childlike wonder and grown-up worries.”

(Introduction, Pages 7-8)

Kai-Fu Lee likens adults’ grasp on AI’s capabilities and its potential impacts to that of children; we are just as naïve and confused as they are. To demonstrate this point, Lee includes some of the questions children asked him that are directly analogous to problems he addresses throughout the book (e.g., “Are we going to have robot teachers?” directly corresponds to his discussion of educational AI in later chapters).

Quotation Mark Icon

“When the Soviet Union launched the first human-made satellite into orbit in October 1957, it had an instant and profound effect on the American psyche and government policy. The event sparked widespread U.S. public anxiety about perceived Soviet technological superiority, with Americans following the satellite across the night sky and tuning in to Sputnik’s radio transmissions. It triggered the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), fueled major government subsidies for math and science education, and effectively launched the space race. That nationwide American mobilization bore fruit twelve years later when Neil Armstrong became the first person ever to set foot on the moon.”

(Chapter 1, Page 11)

This passage uses analogy to support Lee’s “Chinese AI victory” prediction. By dubbing Ke Jie’s match with AlphaGo a “sputnik moment,” Lee connects the Space Race to what he calls the “AI race” between the US and China. He argues that the USSR’s initial lead in the Space Race spurred the US to compensate and “win” by reaching the moon first. In the AI race, the US has the initial lead, and Lee predicts that China will be spurred to overtake them.

Quotation Mark Icon

“Deep Blue had essentially ‘brute forced’ its way to victory—relying largely on hardware customized to rapidly generate and evaluate positions from each move. It had also required real-life chess champions to add guiding heuristics to the software. Yes, the win was an impressive feat of engineering, but it was based on long-established technology that worked only on very constrained sets of issues. Remove Deep Blue from the geometric simplicity of an eight-by-eight-square chessboard and it wouldn’t seem very intelligent at all. In the end, the only job it was threatening to take was that of the world chess champion.

(Chapter 1, Page 13)

Here, Lee explains why Deep Blue’s victories in the 1990s are not comparable to AlphaGo’s victory in 2016. This also demonstrates the rapid growth of AI’s capabilities over the course of roughly thirty years.