Thursday, 19 April 2018

If there's a global technology race, Europe is going to lose.

This is clear from an interview in Der Speigel with Pedro Domingos, author of 'The Master Algorithm' (which, we're told sits on Xi Jinping's bookshelf alongside Marx and Mao):
My literary agent told me: "You are going to sell this book all over the world, but not in France and Germany." And that's what happened. "The Master Algorithm" was sold to Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea. There are Polish and Russian translations. But my agent was right when he said: "The Germans and the French don't like these things."
There still isn't a German translation of the book and it's because the Europeans are terrified of technology's implications:
The picture coming out of Silicon Valley is a very optimistic one, informed by libertarian ideas. The very opposite is true for Europe: I just came back from a conference in Berlin where I was struck by the sheer pessimism. Every other session was about: "Oh, we have to fear this. Who knows what may be going on here?"
This technology - Artificial Intelligence - is our future economy, it is our escape (if Silicon Valley's libertarianism wins over Jinping's autocracy) from being what sociologist C. Wright Mills called The Cheerful Robot back in 1959 (if not it's a world more like Taylorism on steroids - Zamyatin's 'We'). Yet European governments are closing the doors to the idea - from proposals for limits on robots to government access to commercial algorithms the EU and other European governments are set against the idea of a liberal, free market artificial intelligence.

Here in Britain it's not much better with the recent Facebook / Cambridge Analytica sessions, the House of Lords' risible report on AI regulation, the febrile 'we're being spied on by evil capitalists' line of national broadcasters and broadsheets, and a government that can't see how giving the state access to encrypted messaging makes that messaging useless.

We need a debate about the risks and benefits rather than about how we can control the technology - what are the downside risks of unregulated commercial AI set against the upside benefits of giving technology innovators free rein? What, as Domingos comments, is the balance between 'explainability' (this is what the algorithm does) and effectiveness?

Right now Europe, for all its brains and corporate clout, is dragging its heels and, worse, has a government in the EU that is actively opposed to both a liberal US-style technology surge and an autocratic Chinese-style approach. Whoever wins this battle, it isn't going to be Europe.


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