An artificial intelligence reference warned about the manipulation of the radical left and the Chinese threat

Peter Sundays He is one of the most influential artificial intelligence researchers in the world. A vital and extremely important field for the near future, but one that is not exempt from manipulation by radical left-wing groups or from the dangerous Chinese threat. The expert, of Portuguese origin, does not hesitate to denounce this and warn of the risks for world societies.

“There are many people, including artificial intelligence researchers, who, being naturally on the left, assume that their views are the obvious good”commented the professor emeritus from the University of Washington, in dialogue with Infobae.

From his office in Seattle, he addressed this “politicization of technology”, and also referred to other issues such as “wokism” and the culture of cancellation, the “cultural war” promoted by radical movements, and the race between the United States. United States and China for the domination of artificial intelligence.

Regarding the latter, he warned: “The United States is still ahead of China in terms of artificial intelligence and they have different strengths and weaknesses, but China is improving very quickly, much more than the United States. In another decade they will be ahead, and God help us when they are.”

-You, a worldwide reference in the field of artificial intelligence, usually place special emphasis on the growing danger of the “politicization of technology”. What is this about?

-It’s about a lot of things. In general, technology is always politicized, because everyone seeks to use it for their own benefit. It’s inevitable, it’s not a bad thing. Artificial intelligence in particular, which is the technology I have worked on throughout my life, has recently gained great importance and visibility. And that is the result: it has been converted very quickly, and it has become very politicized. Something that I had anticipated a few years ago, but the speed and extension have surprised me. Artificial intelligence is unusual at this time for issues of range and scale. There are technologies that nobody cares about. Artificial intelligence has a large number of possible implications, and it is inevitable. One particularly alarming thing is that most people focus on the falsely dangerous because they don’t understand the technology. Another thing that I see here in the United States, and I haven’t seen the opposite in other countries, is that the extreme left has jumped on it and the extreme right is completely oblivious. This does not mean that one is better than the other. But it is not healthy. We need a debate that is taking place now. There are many people, including artificial intelligence researchers, who, being naturally on the left, assume that leftist views are the obvious good.

-Does this manipulation benefit politicians who present themselves as “anti-system”?

-Not necessarily. In America, particularly in academia and also in the tech world, the political spectrum runs from the center left to the far left, and then unfortunately people who tend to focus on the so-called “ethics of artificial intelligence” is usually the people who are more to the extreme. They have tended to manipulate debates with their views. However, they already have a lot of hooks in tech companies, like Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft… They have what they call “ethics groups,” whose job it is to push these policies, under the name of ethics in the products they we all use, and they are having an influence that is blown out of proportion. There is another aspect. People don’t realize it, but many social networks are run by artificial intelligence algorithms. Twitter has an algorithm that decides what you see, so does Facebook. This new world of different media than we had before has created tremendous opportunities for these people. They have learned in many cases to manipulate these algorithms to do what they want. There are many dangers in all this. But I think that despite everything, people, both on the left and on the right, are trying to figure out how to do it. Everyone in politics, who knows what they’re doing, makes extensive use of artificial intelligence in their campaigns to find out who the targets are, and what to send them. It is potentially a very powerful weapon. Some use them better than others. If you are a totalitarian regime, like China or Russia, artificial intelligence is a treasure to repress people, unfortunately. That is the greatest danger we face today.

-In recent years we have seen how social networks were taken over by trolls, manipulating debates in different parts of the world. We have seen it with presidential elections, during the pandemic, and more recently with the Russian-initiated war in Ukraine, to name a few. How do you combat this trend?

We don’t need to fight it. It is unavoidable. What we have to do is use our advantages. If you look at tech companies, like Google, Facebook, there is a common framework that they are evil manipulators. This is a very wrong view. The influence so far is quite limited. People really overestimate the scope of what can be done, but as technology improves it becomes more powerful, so that’s not a reason to be complacent. They overestimate the use against them, but with that said, everyone is trying to increase their profits. For example, this discussion about privacy, which is already a mistake, because privacy is not like it’s about retaining my data. I do not want to retain my data, I want my data to be used for my maximum benefit. We have to figure out how to share and how to have control over our shared data, and how it is then used for our benefit, in politics, in commerce. Everyone has to understand artificial intelligence enough to be able to make decisions about it. We need to know how to use them, but so far we haven’t. And this gives power to those who know how to use it. One area where they should expand but haven’t is government. Governments are trying to regulate AI the same way they regulate cars and planes, and AI is moving at a different speed. What is needed is for artificial intelligence to work for the government. There is a small fraction of politicians who have people eyeing this, but the vast majority think that artificial intelligence is going to play a big role and that is completely premature for them.

-Do you mean that it will take time for both governments and civil society to be prepared to face this?

-It will, but in some areas it is happening quite quickly and in others very slowly. It’s for us. We have to do the right thing. We specialists have to alert and educate people, and people have to get involved with other decision makers, both private companies, governments, etc. They all have to get down to business. There is an element of alertness in this, because authoritarian regimes are making good use of this. And this contest between democracy and autocracy in the world, which has always been there, changes when technology arrives. And technology provides some opportunities to decide. People don’t remember that when radio and cinema appeared the great users of power were the Nazis and the Soviets. Hitler and Stalin were making great use of radio, long before Rossevelt and Churchill. They then did, and they did very well. In a way, the same thing happens with artificial intelligence.

-You question what is known as “wokism” and the culture of cancellation. Why do you challenge these concepts, and what is the extreme left seeking with them?

-Wokism is a very dangerous ideology. Unfortunately there are in some countries, I think especially in the United States, but it is spreading to other countries in the world: Europe, Latin America. It is a very harmful ideology, much more so than many people believe. I’ve seen her grow up in the academic world. But it is no longer just a problem in the academic world, it has spread to the rest of society. There is more than one element in it. One is the ideology itself. If you think of communism, of Marxism… In the 1960s almost all intellectuals were Marxists, maybe not in the United States, but in most countries Marxism was the obvious thing. In a way, “wokism” is the new Marxism. You have many of the same beliefs and illusions, many of the same mistakes. People are making the same mistakes as before. Social class and the economy, which failed in multiple ways… Compare North Korea and South Korea, for example… That virus did not disappear. And the role that social class played is not the same as other aspects such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and even class in some way. But in the United States in particular, the racial question has always been extremely sensitive, it is something that produces extremes. So “wokism” has really stuck to that. For example, all the things that we take for granted, like democracy, freedom of expression, equal opportunities, meritocracy… All these things that wokism attacks. Ideology itself is really bad. Then there is the culture cancellation aspect. An ideology may be bad, but we can debate it, and the best ideas will prevail. But the problem that we see, and this is a more recent phenomenon, something more than the last five to ten years, is that they try to impose this ideology on everyone else. For example, we warn that in the universities of the United States people have to follow that line or they are fired, and in the media the same… This is a generalized phenomenon. Deviation from this line is not allowed or you will suffer great consequences. What is happening here is very alarming, it is the road to autocracy. It’s like the cultural revolution in China. Wokism and culture cancellation are associated, but you can have wokism without culture cancellation, or culture cancellation without wokism. Unfortunately, one of the novelties of today is social networks, which have just laid a very brutal terrain for “wokism” and the culture of cancellation. Social networks are very powerful, but they are a very new and immature technology.

-From more conservative sectors, some consider that a cultural war is being sought. Do you agree?

-Absolutely. This is different in other countries, but in the United States the so-called “culture war” has been going on since the 1960s. Some things that people fought against starting in the 1960s were correct and prevailed, but others were not. Each decade has many themes of this culture war. What we see now is a more violent, more dangerous, more aggressive incarnation of that. If you have to sum up the culture in the last 50 years, generally there have been swings one way or the other, but overall things have moved to the left consistently for 50 years. But the problem is that now it has moved a lot to the left. There is this army of people who impose these beliefs in school and in universities through their radical-trained teachers. The world has become a world of extermination. Anyone who disagrees is bad. It’s like the culture in China. You have to shoot them all, you have to take them to the gulag. There is a culture war, it is not new, but it is much worse than five years ago.

-Do you consider China a serious threat if it manages to dominate the field of artificial intelligence?

-Yes. China has a list of technologies they want to master, and are investing billions in, and artificial intelligence is one of them. Xi Jinping has said it, as has Putin. Xi Jinping every year gives a New Year’s speech and has a set of books behind him. People look at those books to see what things are important to the leader. Apparently he or they choose those books on purpose to send messages. And a few years ago one of the books was mine, “The Master Algorithm”, about artificial intelligence, and there was another. This shows you the level… They understand that artificial intelligence is: number one, extremely important economically; number two, a very important tool for social control; and number three, extremely important militarily. We have to worry a lot about this. In general, the United States is still ahead of China in artificial intelligence and they have different strengths and weaknesses, but China is improving very quickly, much more than the United States. In another decade they will be ahead, and God help us when they are. In any of these areas.

-China even pursues a new concept of warfare, known as “intelligent warfare”. Do you agree with Chinese military theorists who argue that warfare as we know it is about to change? Is part of this change already taking place in the war in Ukraine?

-In the near future, an army that does not use artificial intelligence will not have a chance to prosper. Because whoever has artificial intelligence in multiple forms will leave the other out. The kinds of things we see in the Ukraine are interesting examples of this. For example, the ability to dispel the fog of war and understand what is happening on the battlefield, and before it becomes a battlefield, and who is doing what with the troops and what is not; who is building nuclear missiles; who is preparing nuclear tests; etc. Espionage… Artificial intelligence transforms all this. If I have artificial intelligence and you don’t, God help you. All systems, including civil ones such as energy, water, are networks, so there are no borders between countries anymore. We are all in cyberspace. Russia and China have their hooks in the United States… Now it’s a totally different battlefield. The so-called “technological surface” is no longer the castle wall. And then the fight itself… See what the drones can do: they fly tanks and helicopters, one after another. They completely change the relationship of forces on the battlefield. And this is just one example. We are getting to the point of having increasingly automated armies. Planes will not have to have pilots. They can fight better, they can do more… The same with chips, with tanks, self-driving logistics tracks on the battlefield… All these technologies are applicable to the military field. There is pressure to ban smart weapons because they are bad. This is a dangerous solution for multiple reasons. For example, weapons of mass destruction are dramatically different. Not everyone can build a nuclear weapon, while anyone can build artificial intelligence. The other aspect is that weapons of mass destruction are bad because they are of mass destruction. Smart weapons are more discriminating. Having artificial intelligence in the army is necessary if you don’t want to lose the next war. And it’s good because it saves lives, including soldiers, who are replaced by machines and are not on the battlefield to be killed.


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