A friend of mine, who runs a large television production company in the car-mad city of Los Angeles, recently noticed that his intern, an aspiring filmmaker from the People’s Republic of China, was walking to work.
When he offered to arrange a swifter mode of transportation, she declined. When he asked why she explained that she “needed the steps” on her Fitbit to sign in to her social media accounts. If she fell below the right number of steps, it would lower her health and fitness rating, which is part of her social rating, which is monitored by the government. A low social rating could prevent her from working or travelling abroad.
Have you seen the Black Mirror episode, Nose Dive?
In Beijing, the machine’s victory cracked the air like a warning shot. That impression was only reinforced when, over the next few months, the Obama administration published a series of reports grappling with the benefits and risks of AI. The papers made a series of recommendations for government action, both to stave off potential job losses from automation and to invest in the development of machine learning. A group of senior policy wonks inside China’s science and technology bureaucracy, who had already been working on their own plan for AI, believed they were seeing signs of a focused, emerging US strategy—and they needed to act fast.
In May 2017, AlphaGo triumphed again, this time over Ke Jie, a Chinese Go master, ranked at the top of the world. Two months later, China unveiled its Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, a document that laid out the country’s strategy to become the global leader in AI by 2030. And with this clear signal from Beijing, it was as if a giant axle began to turn in the machinery of the industrial state. Other Chinese government ministries soon issued their own plans, based on the strategy sketched out by Beijing’s planners. Expert advisory groups and industry alliances cropped up, and local governments all over China began to fund AI ventures.
Remember when the word computer was used to refer to a human being.