ChinAI Newsletter #14: The Bostrom of China? Chinese Philosopher Zhao Tingyang's Essay on Taking Superintelligence Seriously

Welcome to the ChinAI Newsletter!

These are Jeff Ding's weekly translations of writings on AI policy and strategy from Chinese thinkers. I'll also include general links to all things at the intersection of China and AI. Please share the subscription link if you think this stuff is cool. Here's an archive of all past issues.

I'm a grad student at the University of Oxford where I'm the China lead for the Governance of AI Program, Future of Humanity Institute.

Zhao Tingyang on the Risks of Superintelligence

When I think a translation is particularly important, I’ll devote the full issue to it: I think this long essay from Zhao Tingyang, a philosopher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, is an important contribution to the discussion on near-term and long-term AI safety issues, including the prospect of superintelligence. I had never heard about him before a friend passed along this essay; when I asked a political philosophy professor about Zhao’s status in China, she responded, “He is known in China as a very influential and insightful philosopher and I often read his writings.”
The Google Doc is worth a full read. The essay distinguishes between near-term and long-term risks of AI. The four near-term worries are: 1) the intelligent self-driving car paradox which he distinguishes from the well-known trolley problem, 2) unemployment issues where he has an interesting take on how Marx failed to predict high technology, 3) alienation of people-to-people relations, and 4) AI weapons. 
Zhao believes we need baseline safety conditions for superintelligence, which he views as an existential risk, including:

  1. We need to have boundless energy resources (such as extremely efficient solar energy) so humans and superintelligence do not compete over resources

  2. A technical design that creates a kind of self-destruction bomb for an AI system that attempts to modify its programming

Argues that we need a political solution, a new kind of politics, Zhao’s notion of an “All-under-heaven” (Tian-xia) system.

And let's dispel once and for all with this fiction that there are no discussions of AI ethics happening in China (Thanks Marco).

Zhao Tingyang: "Near-term Worries" and "Long-term Concerns" of the Artificial Intelligence "Revolution": An Analysis of Ethics and Ontology

This Week's ChinAI Links

I'll be speaking with Caroline Daniel, of the Brunswick Group, at CogX on Tuesday afternoon about China's AI development. Come say hi if you're in London! 

Recently came across Caixin's tech briefing and they have some great coverage of what's happening in China.

The Silicon Valley AI Alliance is planning a cool tech summit with Chinese counterparts, h/t to Matt Sheehan for flagging this.

Erica Pandey, of Axios, had a nice breakdown of relationship between BAT companies and the Chinese communist party.

Thank you for reading and engaging.

Shout out to everyone who is commenting on the translations - idea is to build up a community of people interested in this stuff. You can contact me at or on Twitter at @jjding99