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Matthew Bartlett and Geoffrey Roberts of Citizen AI look at the geopolitics of AI, China's digital dystopia in the making, the transport and energy transformation, building digitally inclusive communities and more

Matthew Bartlett and Geoffrey Roberts of Citizen AI look at the geopolitics of AI, China's digital dystopia in the making, the transport and energy transformation, building digitally inclusive communities and more

Today's Top 10 is a guest post from Citizen AI.

Citizen AI is a charitable company whose mission is to research, develop and promote AI systems for public benefit. The two directors Matthew Bartlett and Geoffrey Roberts have put together this week's Top 10. Note, this is the last Top 10 for 2018.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to

And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 10 yourself, contact

See all previous Top 10s here.

1. Evgeny Morozov: The geopolitics of artificial intelligence [Youtube]

Is there an AI arms race? Seems like something akin to it is afoot and Morozov has a handle on most of it. He notes that China will invest $US175b by 2030 on AI and that’s just the central government directed programme. It’s also getting harder to know who controls what with entities like Softbank, a Japanese bank buying up hi-tech companies across the world with Saudi and UAE money.

Source: CB Insights: Top AI Trends To Watch In 2018

Morozov highlights that if you discount the big tech firms there is very little global growth in markets since the GFC.

The massive growth in value of Google et al. serves to highlight the stark lack of growth everywhere else.

Can tech firms provide the growth through efficiency gains that will save the global economy?

Or will the benefits of this growth only accrue to the asset owning classes while the rest of society is commoditised as fodder for the admen?

2. Social Credit: China's Digital Dystopia In The Making.

Following on from the above, the massive centralised investment by China in AI is put to good use in ‘organising’ their society. Let’s not be too one-sided about this though, as Morozov mentions above, Amazon provides cloud services for the CIA. Interestingly, Google will not be renewing its current multibillion dollar contract with the US military as it does not align with its new ethical principles. One imagines this is possibly not a luxury afforded to Chinese companies.

3. Tech mega trends: “The industrial age of energy and transportation will be over by 2030”.

Stanford economic professor Tony Seba takes a radical position on the pace of adoption of solar, EVs and transport as a service. His claims include that by 2030, the car market will shrink by 80% due to the rapid adoption of networked, autonomous electric vehicles; creating the need to radically reimagine the shape of our cities and roading needs.

He uses the rapid adoption of the car over the horse as a parallel, highlighting the fact that New York city went from all horses to pretty much all cars in 13 years – from 1900–13.

If he is even half right, transport and energy transformation in response to ever cheapening technology is going to happen much faster than most consider possible. We’re just excited that grandparents everywhere might be able to stay in their own homes for longer as they won’t need a driver’s licence.

4. NZ report: Out of the Maze: Building digitally inclusive communities.

With access to the Internet becoming a sine qua non for full participation in modern societies, this qualitative research released by ‘Think-and-do-tank’ The Workshop last month is a timely contribution. The report covers four NZ regions affected by digital exclusion – Bay of Plenty, West Coast, South Auckland and the Hutt Valley; and has plenty of suggestions for the public & private sectors for ways of improving inclusion. The illustrations are a highlight:

Coming at this topic from a different angle, Nellie Bowles in The New York Times looks at the class and racial gradients in the use of screens in the American context:

“Lower-income teenagers spend an average of eight hours and seven minutes a day using screens for entertainment, while higher income peers spend five hours and 42 minutes, according to research by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit media watchdog. (This study counted each screen separately, so a child texting on a phone and watching TV for one hour counted as two hours of screens being used.) Two studies that look at race have found that white children are exposed to screens significantly less than African-American and Hispanic children.”

5. That crisis in Greece.

No, not that one. The Peloponnesian War, silly.

At the risk of being too gloomy in the run-up to Christmas; in times of trouble and instability, it is always worth revisiting the classics – if only to support Hegel’s platitude that “the only thing we learn from History is that we learn nothing from History”.

Reviewing the epic showdown between Athens and Sparta does give one a sense of foreboding particularly when we consider a core driver was all the minor alliances built up by the major players to preserve their power and influence. Only one of these needs to come unstuck to drag the big guys to the brink and beyond, witness WWI for a modern example. Check out this article for why Thucydides still matters.

6. Everything will be automated.

Essential reading on the future of work, economics and global wealth distribution, Lord Turner (or Jonathan Adair Turner, Baron Turner of Ecchinswell, if you want his entire appellation) posits that the advent of information technology is not just another industrial upgrade but is in fact unique in economic history: “It’s a reasonable belief that we will eventually be able to automate away all that we currently consider as work.”

He theorises with deep insight on what this will all mean for economic life. It’s growth Jim, but not as we know it. He looks at what’s up with productivity and revisits the paradox identified by Robert Solo: “You can see the computer age everywhere except in the productivity statistics”. He observes that you can have incredibly rapid productivity growth in one sector of the economy combined with a proliferation of low paid jobs serving the whims of the machine owners and operators. Straight out of the Jeff Bezos playbook.

The winners will ultimately end up with jobs of very marginal actual benefit but more as an exercise in competing with each other for status and the spoils of the automated age.

7. Where’s all our leisure time hiding?

If you haven’t read the seminal essay written some 90 years ago by John Maynard Keynes, “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” you must. Referenced briefly by Lord Turner above, it seems we have not claimed the leisure time we could have as we keep making up stuff to do. Working in Wellington certainly illuminates the infinite capacity of people to make up work to fill time between flat whites.

8. Going to the moon is soooo 1968.

50 years ago today the Apollo 8 mission departed for the moon’s orbit. It was the first manned mission to do so and they took some great selfies for the earth to put on its Instagram feed. They were also the first humans to see the dark side of the moon.

But that was then – now we are over the white rock and on to the red planet. While a manned mission to Mars is still decades away by most people’s assessment, Elon Musk is not in the category of most people and thinks we could be stubbing our toes on martian rocks as early as 2024.

If you are part of the 7% of Americans who believe the moon landings were faked, you’re going to have a hard time buying this one. 

9. Sophia the Robot, More Marketing Machine Than AI Marvel.

Stanford (again) PhD student Andrey Kurenkov analyses the halo of hype around one of the most famous humanoid robots around. Sophia was granted citizenship by Saudia Arabia a year ago, and continues to generate fawning headlines (‘Meet Sophia: The robot who laughs, smiles and frowns just like us’, ‘Here's What Sophia, the First Robot Citizen, Thinks About Gender and Consciousness’, ‘The humanoid robot's first boyfriend is an Indian’, and my personal favourite ‘Sophia the AI robot says Ethiopia is a 'special' country with 'world class talent’) in newspapers around the world at an impressive rate.

Kurenkov points out the disconnect between media-stoked public perception of the state of the art in AI, and the much more complicated reality: “On one hand, [Sophia creator Hanson Robotics] seems to have been masterfully leveraging the public’s fascination for “almost human” robots; on the other hand, each of their claims draws ire from the people who have sufficient background to evaluate them.”

Something to think about when evaluating claims about ‘digital humans’.

Image credit: Photo by ITU Pictures on Flickr

10. Chatbot to help New Zealand renters.

If you can forgive the self-promotion, we at Citizen AI have just last week released Rentbot – a chatbot that tries to help renters with tenancy problems. We hope that what it lacks in Sofia esque gimmickry, it makes up for in usefulness.  If you’re one of the roughly three million New Zealanders on Facebook, you can chat with Rentbot here:

The project is funded by the Michael & Suzanne Borrin Foundation.

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#10 - using a chatbot instead of a human - perfectly illustrates the AI-vs-humans jobs dilemma. Just make sure the bot gets upgrade breaks, observes the legislated Maximum Parallel Usage limit, and has adequate cooling (and if needed, Heating) facilities available at all times. Otherwise Et Tu is gonna have you in front of the Justice Fer Bots Tribunal quick smart. To say nothing of what the Elfin Safety crew will come up with.

Still, look on the bright side. No fear of PG's or a MeToo moment....


#7 That leisure is hiding in plain sight in our retirement.

Life expectancy in 1930 Britain was 58 years for a male. In part, it was so low because infant mortality was higher (~6% according to internet). But I'd still be confident that life expectancy for a healthy 5 year old in 1930 was a about decade shorter than what it is today.

Keynes was not as wrong as people often claim. It is just that instead of a 3 day work week, we have a longer retirement.


#6 "He theorises with deep insight on what this will all mean for economic life"

Hmm... of lesser importance obviously, there is the trivial matter of human life. We currently replace humans with robots, want humans to be robots, or create robot humans. Eventually a few humans serve the robots, and the rest if not humanely disposed of will be confined to the reservations.

Ha, it'd be funny if it wasn't true.


Gad. Christmas morning and I am just reading this fantastic top 10. So much to follow up here 2019 will go in a flash.
My first take. AI will need a new politics.