Alibaba’s AI Predicts Human Action

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Forget Mises. Libertarianism has been defeated by the ultimate Communist invention: Alibaba’s AI has successfully predicted the winner of China’s “I Am a Singer”. Are we finally on the road of predicting human action and having a Big Brother organizing both the economy and our lives? Will SkyNet be the next president of the People’s Republic of China?

First of all, it should be defined what an AI is and what it is not. An AI is basically a machine that can behave in such a way as to make it indistinguishable from humans. Of course, a more complex AI can simulate the behavior of different individuals and thus reproduce the choices of different human beings at the same time. An AI, however, is not an automated planner, and although automated planning is studied as a branch of AI, it usually deals with predictions outside of human behavior. Why? Because human behavior is unpredictable. Take Amazon, for instance. We usually see those annoying ads following us from web to web, suggesting as what books we should buy. These results are of course based on the data we leave behind when we use Goggle and other services, but they are not the result of an accurate prediction: Does anyone actually buy all the books that pop up in your Amazon ads? Does Amazon know what books you already have at home so it won’t offer you those that you already purchased, let’s say, at Barnes & Noble or at your local store? The answer to these questions is no: Amazon’s AI is merely playing a guess game. And sometimes it gets lucky. So, what’s up with Alibaba’s “AI”?

Human action is the result of a complex interaction between individuals with different ideas, means, and motivations. If we put together ten different individuals and make them vote for their favorite song, the only way a machine –not an AI– can effectively predict the outcome would be to have all the ideas, means, and motivations from every single person inside itself. However, Alibaba’s AI did not do that: in fact it merely focused on the object of appreciation (the external), the so-called aesthetic qualities of the different songs, in order to offer a result. In other words, this would mean that aesthetic qualities or art are somehow something objective and independent from the spectator, that everybody would like the same art, the same literature, the same songs. Thus, Alibaba’s machine should have failed, but it did not. Why?

There are two possible answers: Alibaba’s machine-of-doom may have gotten lucky and offer an educated guess. But it is more reasonable to think that this is just a market strategy to increase the popularity of Alibaba at a time when Chinese consumers are switching to other products (Hey, Jack Ma, your AI didn’t predict that, right?). Anyone who knows the Chinese industry knows how it works, and we have countless examples of how spectacles such as this one are staged to impress their idiotic audiences. Examples? Do you remember the impressive opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing directed by Zhang Yimou? It featured 29 firework footprints that were actually faked and simulated by computer animation. The same event featured a lovely child singing “Ode to the Motherland”… but it was actually the voice of another child with a better pinch. TV programs featuring Chinese singers usually use lip-synch, as it can be seen in this amazing performance of a very cute Chinese girl who is able to sing with the microphone rotated. And the same happened recently during the Lantern Festival Gala. If Jack Ma’s machine-of-doom could predict anything, would he waste it with a stupid TV program?

Of course, there is a third possibility. That Alibaba’s “AI” actually predicts “Chinese Action”, rather than “Human Action”. Anyone familiar with the PRC knows that the actions and responses of Chinese people are easy to predict, making China an ideal market for entrepreneurs. Chinese people are so brainwashed by state-sponsored media that it is not difficult to make successful predictions about them, including aesthetic predictions, because they work like a hive with a central brain called “Xi Jinping”. It may sound like a joke, but there is a lot in it. Chinese people usually like the same music, the same art, the same literature. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but it is not difficult to predict the final winner of “I Am a Singer” based on that. For example, lesbian singer and ex-girlfriend of China’s banned other lesbian singer Denise Ho, Joey Yung, as well as Hacken Lee, both sang Cantonese songs, so chances of getting the first place were basically zero. Oh, it should be pointed out that if you say in China that you like Joey Yung –young people do not know who Denise Ho is anymore, thanks to state censorship–, they will look at you with dismay and blurt out something like “Yuk, she’s a lesbian”.

Still, I would go for the second option: Alibaba’s prediction was staged to increase their product’s popularity. Because as much as the central planning automatons of Beijing wish for it, individuality always finds its way out.

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