ChinAI Newsletter #17: New Sci-fi Book on a "Rebellion by the Robotics Kingdom" + popular science with Chinese characteristics

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. *Subscribers are welcome to share excerpts from these translations as long as my original translation is cited.

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.

Uncovering Secrets of the Robotics Kingdom - Translation of the First Chapter

I think Chinese popular science/science fiction literature can offer a lot of insights into the discursive milieu surrounding advanced technologies and AI. Recently came across this book published in April 2018 by the husband-wife team of Cai Zixing, a robotics expert/university professor/former VP of Chinese Association of AI, and Weng Huang, a middle school teacher. 

The book's audience is aimed toward middle school, high school, and college students (teen-young adult fiction), but I thought the first chapter was pretty interesting. The book's plot is based on a piece of explosive news released in the year 2030: “Headquartered in Japan, the Robotics Kingdom has taken advantage of the opening of the International Federation of Robotics Executive Board meeting sponsored by the Japan Robot Association to abduct officials of robotics groups as well as important Japanese government officials and robotics experts from various countries, demanding that they be equal in status to humans, be completely free, and divide up “all under heaven” equally with humans." 

If readers find the first chapter interesting/or not, let me know - I think I'll keep translating a few chapters similar to the approach with the Tencent/CAICT book.

Uncovering Secrets of the Robotics Kingdom - Chapter 1 Translation

Context for this book: attaching importance to popular science literature with Chinese characteristics

The foreword, written by the two authors, to this book is also very interesting, outlining their driving force behind this book. What they call "popular science literature with Chinese characteristics" appears to consist of the following elements:

Linked to government imperatives: the foreword references a 2014 Xi Jinping speech on the importance of the robotics revolution for the third revolution, as well as the Robotics Industry Development Plan (2016-2020)
Aimed at driving talent cultivation: as the foreword notes, "Today's schoolchildren and college students will shoulder the heavy responsibility of developing Chinese robotics in the near future. It is of great significance to introduce them now to robot-related popular science and science fiction stories, and to popularize robotics knowledge and increase their interest in robotics technology."
Truth-seeking, pragmatic, and healthy:  The authors say that while thrilling science fiction works regarding robots (many of which have been adapted to movies) generate box office profits and inspire young people's innovative thinking, they want to write science fiction that is closer to reality, providing young people with "spiritual sustenance that is truth-seeking, pragmatic, and healthy."

Foreword_Uncovering Secrets of the Robotics Kingdom

This Week's ChinAI Links

Who offers the best Chinese-English machine translation? (AKA who currently greatly supplements ChinAI now but may take over ChinAI in the future), an analysis by Yiqin Fu (h/t to Baobao Zhang for pointing me to Yiqin's work).

Any issue about Chinese scifi has to mention Liu Cixin and the Three Body Problem (a must-read and Liu Cixin's work has inspired government policy in realms such as the search or extraterrestrial intelligence), but I'd also recommend Hao Jingfang's Folding Beijing on the social costs of automation (translation by Ken Liu).

Two really in-depth reports published by ASPI this week: 1) Samantha Hoffman's piece on social credit had some fascinating details on messaging by the State Council’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office  to overseas/ethnic Chinese; 2) Elsa Kania’s piece on the dual-use dilemma in China’s pursuit artificial intelligence provided a good overview of the situation, including a new Baidu-CETC joint lab, as well as a set of policy recommendations.

Video from my conversation on China's AI landscape with Caroline Daniel, partner at the Brunswick Group, is up and can be watched here. This occurred at the CogX conference in London a couple weeks ago.

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