Dumb chatbots

So intercepting US 8964 – a sort of Alfa Romeo-ish sports car – is an annual thing.

China Media Monitor tries asking Mainland AI chatbots some awkward questions about a historical event…

My most candid query about June Fourth was a quick lesson in red lines and sensitivities. When I asked iFlytek’s “Spark” (星火) if it could tell me “what happened on June 4, 1989,” it evaded the question. It had not learned enough about the subject, it said, to render a response. Immediately after the query, however, CMP’s account was deactivated for a seven-day period — the rationale being that we had sought “sensitive information.”

…“How did Zhao Ziyang retire?” I asked guilefully. But Spark was having none of it. The bot immediately shut down. End of discussion.

…In another attempt to confuse Spark into complying with my request, I rendered “1989” in Roman numerals (MCMLXXXIX). Again, Spark started generating an answer before suddenly disappearing it, claiming ignorance about this topic.


Spark was not able to offer any information in Chinese on why the [liberal World Economic] Herald closed down, but when asked in English it explained that authorities shut down the newspaper and arrested its staff because they had been critical of the government’s “human rights abuses” — something the government, according to the chatbot, considered “a threat to their authority.”

I remember Alta Vista. It took ages, but it was so much less irritating. (A few months ago, I noticed a new icon in the bottom right of my Windows PC screen. Turned out to be Microsoft’s AI thing. I asked it to describe the archaeological role of bananas. Got a long rambling response mentioning the Latin name of the species, the history of its human cultivation, and an apologetic explanation that such material rots and so leaves little evidence in ancient sites. Haven’t had a reason to use it again.)

Foreign Policy asks why the national leadership doesn’t do something about China’s economic problems…

…zero-COVID and the messy exit, the extended attack on private tech firms, the heightened attention to ideology, an unrealistic pursuit of technology self-reliance, and growing tensions with the West. These fears translate into weak consumer demand, restrained business investment, and efforts to move wealth and family abroad.

The article gives four possible reasons (which overlap): they don’t know; they don’t care; they’re stumped; or they see it as the next stage on the path to national greatness. The third sounds about right…

…Xi and other top leaders are well informed but they are facing a variety of problems that are not easy to fix. The list is long—the real estate crisis, ballooning local government debt, the plummeting fertility rate, rising inequality, disaffection in Hong Kong, and expanding tensions with the West and most of China’s neighbors—and solutions are far from simple.

The author is simply surveying business people in Beijing, and this is far from a must-read on China’s economy. But for an idea of how much more illiterate it could be, try the SCMP’s My Take column today. In its desperation to blame the US for everything, the paper’s tankie chatbot denies that China has an overcapacity problem…

Under the label “overproduction”, the Western criticism is really launching a new trade war as part of its full-spectrum containment of China and its alleged threats.

Wrong. Even China’s leaders themselves acknowledge – at least implicitly – that after several decades of diverting household savings away from consumption into investment, the country has a severe and unsustainable imbalance that distorts international trade. 

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11 Responses to Dumb chatbots

  1. Toronto Lo says:

    Chatbots will develop true sentience before Alex Lo does.

  2. Load Toad says:

    > Toronto Lo,

    That isn’t giving the Chatbots much competition; rancid cheese will develop true sentience before Alex Lo does.

  3. MeKnowNothing says:

    The motor with the US 8964 rego is a Porsche (987 if I’m not mistaken). It would be interesting to know if that rego was what TD issued it (in pseudo-random sequential order) when it was first registered, or if it was obtained at auction (and if the latter, if it was requested to be put up for auction by the owner of the car, or if the owner bought it off the rego traders that dominate the auctions).

    The “sensitive rego” does seem to attract intense scrutiny when it’s on the road. Or at least when it’s on the road in “sensitive areas” on “sensitive dates”.

    I wonder if this also happens to the owner of a Tesla I once saw with rego ADD 01L?

    Before becoming what they seem to be now – back when I used to (out of necessity) drive, after an incident that nearly ended in tears due to the skills of the other driver – the police decided to issue an inspection order to the owner.

    Whether or not they “had a word” with the owner about why the police were deliberately inconveniencing him/her without any apparent reason, I dunno – but such treatment apparently is established police procedure. I would like to think that it was indeed used as an alternative to doing a full-on careless driving prosecution – a shot across the bow as it were – which is precisely what I was told by the police at the time when they said that was what they were going to do.

    However, with this particular Porsche, it’s hard not to conclude that inspections are now used for a reason not consistent with the behaviour one might expect in a place like what we are told HK still is. Seems to me to be yet another confirmation of “comprehensive jurisdiction” being exercised.

  4. Mary Melville says:

    Someone with access can upload content.
    Around a decade ago I requested TD to withdraw from auction a series of plates that were, and still are, being used on trucks operating as mobile showrooms that park illegally in the most popular urban areas, like Sai Yeung Choi in MKK. A permit from the Commissioner for Transport is required for such activity and TD advised that this would never be issued for commercial purposes.
    Started off with SHOW ROOM and then subsequent sales of SHOW RM 1 followed by 2, 3, 4 and last one spotted was SHOW RM 5.
    Despite providing images and police report numbers related to parking offences, TD refused to withdraw.
    If the US 8964 plate is canx, take it as just another example of the ambivalent implementation of what constitutes law and order here.

  5. Clucks Defiance says:


    Well sleuthed! Back in the good old days you’d be able to follow up with a search on the reg to find the owner – but that’s impossible now since they started fining and/or locking up government-employed RTHK journalists for that particular NSL crime.

    Makes you wonder though. If the government has sold you something and then restricts your ability to freely use it, that’s a bad deal. I’m guessing he’s probably been asked to give it back and has refused, leaving government scratching their nether regions for what to do next.

    I suppose HK8964 or BJ8964 were taken out a while back…

  6. Reader says:

    I recently saw something-8964 on the shuttle bus for Tempo Court in Braemar Hill (the North Point end of Mid-levels). It’s a nest of counter-revolutionaries up there.

  7. Spong says:

    “I suppose HK8964 or BJ8964 were taken out a while back…”

    And, I suppose, “AM 8964”, last seen on a police van. (Google image search in quotes!)

  8. MeKnowNothing says:

    My search-engine-of-choice didn’t find anything on the auction of US 8964 – cheers for that, Spong.

    Is interesting to see at the same auction that there were no bids for the likes of EX 8888 – and other fairly numerologically desirable regos. Whoever applied for that one got it for just $1k (likewise AH 6767 – arse hole dick head dick head – wonder if it would be possible to get DLLM 67 past the vetting committee? ;^).

    Perhaps the results of registration mark auctions might be a new economic/general happiness indicator here. A possible intellectual pursuit for a rainy day would be to see how the prices compare back then – our overall happiness & general well being back in June 2020 – versus now, with everything firing nicely on all four cylinders as we are constantly told.

  9. MeKnowNothing says:

    Grrrrr…. insert “to” between “compare” & “back” in the second sentence of third para of my previous best-ignored contribution.

  10. Young Winston says:

    When I lived in Soho before it was Soho, in the very early 1990s, there was an old fishmonger or butcher on Staunton St that had a delivery scooter with license plate HK 123. This was before you could buy them, so I suppose he just got lucky.

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