AMY WEBB — THE BIG NINE — 2019
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
The author has spent long periods of time in China and Japan. She thus knows what she is speaking about, and yet she is direct testimony of what they start considering in the USA in various fields, first police work, second the Silicon Valley, that is to say, unconscious bias. In her case she would swear to god or gods that it is true, that it is factual, that it is undeniable that China is first an absolute dictatorship, even when she only says a totalitarian state, definitely undemocratic, unliberal, you name it you have it. Second China is developing a project that only targets the total domination and control of the whole world. Hence China is the enemy for the supposedly democratic USA and by extension the supposedly free world.
That’s only an opening remark that unluckily points at a shortcoming that is so common among American intellectuals, CEOs of any sort or kind. It may be seen as catching in some areas in Western Europe, but certainly not in Europe as a whole and not even in the Brexiting United Kingdom for which China might be the price to pay in order not to sink in a post- or even pre-Brexit recession.
And that leads me to a second remark that is just as fundamental and yet is only a side remark as for the main subject of the book. Europe is plainly absent 100% from this book that deals with Artificial Intelligence in the age of 5G communication. I am afraid this too is an unconscious bias from an American intellectual: she does not know about Europe, she does not consider Europe and in Europe we should not forget Belarus and Russia, even by the way Ukraine, the three countries that diagnosed the cyber-attack against the nuclear centrifuges of Iran under Barack Obama and from a joint Israeli and US cyberwar initiative. They diagnosed it and they blocked it. At the same time this refusal to consider Europe would be embarrassing because Russia has hacking technology far superior to anything the USA or western Europe may think of, to the point that the two missiles attacks of the USA against Syria on the pretext of some unclear chemical attacks were thwarted more than fifty percent by Russia hacking the missiles themselves after launching and dispatching them away from their target. The first time that was a big surprise for the US armed forces. The second time they could verify they did not have the proper answer. They later spoke of a third attack, maybe, but it never materialized for the simple reason: they cannot control their missiles as soon as they are launched.
Now the book is about a crucial subject for our present times: artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G communication. The book is based on a systematic dystopic vision based on essentially a twisted vision of China that is acknowledged as being far ahead in this field as compared to the USA (no mention of Europe and the possible alliance with Russia, Belarus and some western European countries) but described as having the desire to introduce systematic surveillance of every single citizen — or is it resident I should say, since in her vision there are no free elections and thus no democracy in China, therefore no citizens — who will be face-recognized at any time and maybe even of course at home with all sorts of AI connected objects like fridges, TVs, computers, alarm clocks, and probably toothbrushes and toilet flushes. When you push that rewriting of 1984 and Big Brother to toothbrushes and toilet flushes you actually see the paranoid hysteria behind this vision. And the second motivation of the Chinese Communist Party is to colonize — purely and simply colonize — the whole world via commercial ventures like the Belt and Road Initiative. What is surprising is that she does not integrate in 2019 the company Huawei which is the Chinese most-advanced-in-the-world 5G-communication company, and what’s more state-owned or at least state-controlled. Huawei is at least the fourth company she could consider on the Chinese side and her BAT would become a BATH, in other words, the Chinese policy of developing AI in all possible fields (unescapably dictated, by the way, for industry and employment by the retiring of numerous unskilled workers and their replacing by young highly-skilled workers in a 3 to 1 proportion at least. The Chinese have better develop AI applications not to fall into a labor recession) this policy would thus become in this anti-Chinese perspective a real blood BATH. The author never takes this fact into account.
Now, what are the subject and main argument of the book?
If we consider the foreseeable future development of AI within 5G-communication with all sorts of connected objects with the Internet-of-Things, the world is going to fall under the total control of nine companies. In the USA (which from experience includes Europe but since the European specific characteristics are not taken into account, the US-centered discourse is totally unrealistic) six companies are taken into account. She calls them G-MAFIA meaning Google as the main one, hence the dash, then Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, IBM, and Amazon. On the Chinese side, only three companies qualify for this 2019 book, which is slightly outdated, as what she calls BAT: Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. I just said it was short. She should have added Huawei and of course Lenovo, and that’s probably not all because the Chinese are not tinkering with research in this field with start-ups and other individual enterprises, but they are implementing directly in productive fields like train technology, plane technology, electric car technology, and of course other fields in which the USA and the West are still infants like agriculture, water management, and environment, pollution, climate change and some more not to speak of maritime technology and security with satellite and AI implementations on the giant container ships and tankers of today in the three international alliances in this field that bans all flags of convenience and in which the USA is absolutely absent (both shipping companies, container ships and tankers, and the third element that harbor technology is). It is this absence of real fields and domains of economic development using AI that is amazing. Today with satellites we can follow all ships, control all their operations in the various harbors, and guarantee maritime transportation against all sorts of trafficking, high jacking and piracy, and of course speculation and corruption.
She sees very well that China has two advantages: 1- it is technically far ahead of the west, and 2- it is managing this field of technological development with planification over the next ten to twenty years, and maybe beyond. And the third advantage is the fact that it is all under the control of a stable government. She can consider this government is undemocratic, non-elected, or whatever. Its stability and its constant renewal are guarantees that there will not be some brutal change of direction. If the objectives changed it would be under the management from scientists and thus progressive and objective. In spite of what she says there is a lot of transparency in this Chinese society and in fact we know what the Chinese are doing better than what Facebook or Google are doing, precisely because of the planification and the various plans and reports are available for everyone to download them.
She sees very well the disadvantages of the US that could be considered as the representative of the West, though that would be a mistake.
The Federal government of the USA has no planification for this or any other development in the industrial, social or technological, let alone cultural fields. They are dominated by a government that changes every four years and that is entirely dominated by the obligation of new elections every four years with mid-term elections that reduce the planification — if we can call that planification — to two years. If there is some follow-up control it comes from agencies that are managed on a day to day basis by bureaucrats and these agencies are ABSOLUTELY NOT TRANSPARENT AT ALL. She perfectly sees that this technological development is in the sole hands of six companies, of the Silicon Valley, of individuals who are ABSOLUTELY NOT TRANSPARENT for the wide public and who are only RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT THEY DO ONLY TO THE STAKEHOLDERS AND STOCKHOLDERS OF THE COMPANIES which guarantees first, private interests are absolute; second, transparency is totally impossible; and third, greed is the main motivation (to make as much money as fast as possible). There is no way out though Europe is little by little imposing first, regulations; second, sanctions and fines if the companies do not respect these regulations, and third, you have to keep in mind that for Europe China is an alternative in all fields and that the European Union is not trying to keep China out, but is trying to keep the Chinese influence under some kind of control. But if US computers (made in China by the way) are too expensive for the public, so the market will bring Chinese computers that are technically good or even better and that are a lot cheaper, if they want, and if not cheaper at least with such profit margins that Chinese is getting fat on such commerce). At the present moment in Europe iPad and iPhones are becoming a niche and will never reach the wide public available on the market.
The three scenarios for the future she proposes, are all absurd because they do not take Europe into consideration and because they are all of them biased as for China, the Chinese Communist Party, the Belt and Road Initiative, etc. And she probably does not realize that her future plan is based on the idea that there is no “democratic” future that does not come from the USA and from the G-MAFIA US companies. I do not trust Google and the others to accept to be ethical, honest, transparent, and morally, ethically, socially, culturally sustainable. Are politicians better? Probably not but at least they are not eternal, and they can be removed from office. Who can remove Zuckerberg from Facebook? The people? Let me laugh. The market? Even, worse as long as he is making mountains of profit. She considers Facebook will disappear soon, killed by the market, both the loss of millions of customers and competition from better social networks, not to mention the loss of advertisers who do not want to become the financiers of some political dark underground and uncheckable project à la Steve Bannon.
The future can only come from the constant, stable and long-lasting cooperation among three bodies of people: first, the political authorities of all countries in the world. Second, the scientific and technological actors in this field of AI and its applications, not the financial CEOs but the real scientific and technological CEOs. And third, representatives of the mass of people who are users and customers. That third body cannot be reduced to the behavior of customers on the market. It has to be a body that can orient the research in these fields towards what would be most beneficial to most people. Actually, I would say the Chinese system is a lot more effective at that level. Even if we don’t know about it.
There would be a lot more to say on this book, but the flaws are essentially what I have said and her plan for the future is to force the Chinese Communist Party to accept her vision, even by using the BAT Chinese companies against their government, which is absurd, plainly absurd. There cannot be any future if Europe is not integrated into this project and Canada is not a neutral place, or not more neutral than Luxemburg as for the European Community. We could of course also consider Lichtenstein or Andorra, why not Monaco. And there should be some kind of international regulating authority, but the future policy cannot be reduced, as it is page 240–242 to fifteen rules that have to be absolute, that are declared universal, like it or not, and that are expressed in a way or another as MUSTs and MUSTN’Ts, that is to say obligations and interdictions, but where is freedom in all that, where are HUMAN RIGHTS in all that when Western Human Rights become HUMAN OBLIGATIONS outside the West and even in the West for minorities like Muslims, Blacks or whatever minorities the West loves segregating against cyclically: Jews, Blacks, Muslims, Asians, and so many others, even LGBTQ people.
Diversity is the answer and I must say the West is not the best example of such diversity in many fields, even by the way the simple sexual diversity of women and men, not to speak of OTHER sexual identities. It is becoming common today in Europe to propose three answers to the question “Sex” or “Gender” if you prefer: MALE, FEMALE, OTHER/NON-SPECIFIED/PREFER-NOT-TO-SPECIFY. I am afraid we are still far from being able to consider such a procedure as universal in the world and it will take a lot of intelligence, human intelligence, and much internet-of-things to bring such a simple procedure to some kind of universality. Amy Webb alas, considers that a decree from the top, meaning the USA and at best the West can bring such values and procedures to any sustainable universality. I sure do not trust Google or Facebook to bring that up to any real existence. They might be dreaming of universality, but they certainly don’t consider sustainability as their target since their target is to make money, and more money and a lot more money. They might dream of themselves as universal and durable, but not sustainable, except in a perverse mismatch of the word sustainability and the meaning of greed.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU