[ Question ]

Shouldn't there be a Chinese translation of Human Compatible?

by MakoYass1 min read9th Oct 202012 comments



Considering that China seems pretty serious about investing heavily in AI in the near future, it may be kind of important that Stuart Russel's work of AI alignment advocacy Human Compatible is made as accessible as possible to a Chinese audience, but there don't seem to be any Chinese translations.

Is it not necessary, perhaps? Is it possible that the most influential people in the field over there are all necessarily fluent in english, so that they can engage with the research literature and use the tools?
Otherwise, what's getting in the way of producing this? What should be done?

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After looking into the PISA scores and finding they implied about 20x more 3-sigma people are in China than America, I emailed Stuart Russel about translations. This was his reply:


The vast majority of Chinese CS researchers are publishing in English.

For the broader policymaking class, it might be useful to have literature in Chinese.

My book Human Compatible will appear in Chinese shortly.

Slaughterbots has already appeared with Chinese subtitles.

For English-language government and think-tank documents,

I assume Chinese policy makers have access to translation resources as needed.


I've talked with someone in EA Hong Kong who follows the progress of translation of effective altruism into Chinese language and culture; it is not trivial to do so optimally, and suboptimal translations carry substantial risks. Some excerpts mentioned in the linked post:

Doing mass outreach in another language creates irreversible “lock in” [...] China faces especially high risk of lock in, because you also face the risk of government censorship

Likewise, one of the possible translations of “existential risk” (生存危机) is very close to the the name of a computer game (生化危机), so doesn’t have the credibility one might want.

To do this well, we’ll need people who are both experts in the local culture and effective altruism in the West. We’ll also need people who are excellent writer and communicators in the new language.

Initial efforts to expand effective altruism into new languages should focus on making strong connections with a small number of people who have relevant expertise, via person-to-person outreach instead of mass media.

The arguments about EA being niche and difficult to communicate through low-fidelity means apply just as strongly to EA-style AI safety. However, the author also says:

If written materials are used, then it’s better to focus on books, academic articles and podcasts aimed at a niche audience.

Book translations generally happen because a local publisher decides it would be worth it, so they buy the local-language sales rights (either from the original publisher or the original author, depending on whether the author kept those rights or sold them to the publisher) and hire a translator.

In this case, Human Compatible was published by Viking Press, who are a part of Penguin Group. According to Wikipedia, Penguin has its own division in China. They might or might not already be working on a translation of their own, or possibly negotiating with some other Chinese publisher for the sale of the rights.

If someone wanted to work with this, I would expect that the first step would be to get in contact with Viking Press and try to find out whether there's any translation effort or rights negotiation already in the works. If there isn't, getting a Chinese publisher (either Penguin's Chinese division or someone else) interested might be a good bet. That would probably require convincing them that Chinese people are interested in buying the book; I don't know what would persuade them of that.

Find out how much a translation would cost. Then you can either make a business case for it, or offer to pay for it yourself.

The inverse question is what is the English speaking world missing out on? China presumably has equivalents to what we have that we never see.

That being said, it's going to take a lot more than books to stop China being China. Any AI they create will be shaped by their values. And AI is very much a weapons technology.