Elizabeth Holmes, Kaifu Lee, and some remarks on fraud and manufactured success

Haha, father VP at Enron, fraud seems embedded in her bloodline. Fleischmann is Jewish, that means maybe Elizabeth Holmes can also go onto my Scandalous Jews list?

Recognition for “tireless optimism and a particularly warm smile.” What the fuck!? And lol, why would Chinese universities buy C++ compilers from her when they can easily obtain it free of charge.

You know this sounds like some real conspiracy theory out of Washington to manufacture a female Steve Jobs. Yet it failed miserably. Couldn’t the US elite do a better job of at least masking their corruption and nepotism a bit?

Speaking of which, a few days ago, I learned that Kaifu Lee, former Microsoft and Google VP, who was extremely popular among young people in China as a role model in the internet technology sector with widely read books on his life experience and on advice for youth, was actually exposed for fraud or at least gross misrepresentation and exaggeration of his career history and achievements, with many on the Chinese internet even suspecting him to be a half-closeted foreign influence agent. The guy who first ratted him out to the public on Weibo, where Kaifu has millions of followers, was Fang Zhouzi, a University of Science and Technology of China graduate and PhD in biochemistry (from Michigan State), who after doing a postdoc became a science writer and crusader against academic fraud. Fang pointed out how in his autobiography, Kaifu had written of himself as 卡尼基梅隆计算机系最年轻的副教授 (the youngest associate professor in the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University). Fang emphasized the big difference between assistant and associate professor (one is tenured the other is merely tenure track), as well as the misleadingness of “youngest,” as Fang found a guy who had become an assistant professor in the same department as Kaifu earlier. In fact, there is not even solid evidence that Kaifu was even an assistant professor there; it’s possible that he was for less than a year before leaving for Apple. This was back in 2011 I believe, and it was all through Weibo, on which Kaifu finally had to give an apology, when excuses such as “nuances in translation” no longer worked.

As for the “foreign influence agent” part, we shall note how Kaifu was born in Taiwan, and his father was a historian there who wrote books to smear the Chinese communists. With some searches on Baidu one can also easily find that his uncle was executed by the communists soon after the PRC established, for allegedly having taken an active role in some campaign to kill Chinese communists earlier on. There are, too, accusations of his promotion of Taiwanese independence activists and the likes on his Weibo. Some people are even doubtful whether he actually got cancer; they suspect he might have gone to Taiwan where he could, with his political connections, fake it, all the while planning and organization with supporters there his next major influence operation. Note that while he did renounce his American citizenship (for tax reasons), he retained his ROC one (instead of switching to PRC citizenship). One can see much more such information on Kaifu here.

I was somewhat surprised as I had been under the impression that he has a very positive reputation in China. Certainly, I thought more lowly of him after realizing that much of what he had written in his book 《与未来同行》(A Walk into the Future), which I had read in high school, was basically superficial bullshit, which I’ve also mentioned here.

Yes, I much dislike it when people who are not actually all that smart and talented pretend to be and market themselves as such, even using PR professionals if they’re rich and connected enough. The truth is that there are some things one cannot fake, at least to a subset of people sufficiently knowledgeable. It’s obvious to me and many by now that some fields are much harder than others and thus the people in them tend to be much smarter and more talented on average. Similarly, stuff like SATs and math contests cannot be faked, and the existence of an actual cognitive hierarchy grounded on reality is apparent from the consistency of results in such contests. A 100 meter sprint time cannot be faked either. People who run sub 10 s times or close are real genetic freaks of nature, marvels of human biology. On the other hand, promotions and career success in the likes you get uplifted much under the whims of those already in power often reflect political favor and connection as opposed to actual ability and accomplishment. Even in the internet technology sector, you have politically enabled people taking credit for the work of others and even creating a cult of themselves within the company or the sector at large. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, etc. We cannot really be that sure of them as individuals. We can be sure that their companies had some actually very talented and capable people who contributed collectively to their successful products. Yes, in statistics, it is sample size that can easily exponentially increase the level of statistical significance. On this, I shall note that if an individual fails out in the career/promotions world where there is a relatively high random component, it could have well been due to bad luck, though certainly, the longer the career, the more samples we have and thus the more confidence. In contrast, if a large group, like a nation or ethnic group, fails to produce top people or companies, we can be relatively sure that that group really is less competent at either the individual or collective level.

An ideal world is one where people recognize and respect those more talented than they are and get out of their way. If somebody else can visibly do a job much better than you can, you should just let that person do the job. Do something you’re better suited to. If you’re mediocre, then take a mediocre position and keep a low profile. Don’t pretend to be a genius when you’re obviously not. People in the likes of Elizabeth Holmes do enormous damage directly to actual quality and quantity of productivity by making shit out of vast resources they manage to accumulate out of family and political connections, that would have been made much better use of controlled by more appropriately competent people. An even more insidious effect is the trust it erodes in our society, which can be very difficult to recover. Elizabeth Holmes, her family, and her financial supporters must bear collective responsibility for the damage they’ve wrought to America, as this country’s elite. Evade it as they probably will and the long term consequence will only be more dire. Talented, capable people from other countries will want to come here less, and talented, capable people already in America will feel less incentivized and inspired to actually contribute. Eventually, they can bring this entire country down.

As for Kaifu, he was obviously a pretty legit research engineer, nothing like Holmes. His later public intellectual behavior is questionable though, especially his gross inflation of himself in his autobiography, which he had the ego and lack of judgment to publish before retired. Yes, Kaifu appears on the surface to have good intentions. In his book, he wrote about his dream of creating impact in China, about how he dreamed of returning to his motherland, which his father was not able to do. He considered himself very successful and a rightful inspiring figure, teacher, and role model for young people in China interested in technology. But he took that way too far, and even lied about his past experience to sell himself, which is quite shameful really. Also, there are a good number of mainland Chinese in his generation far more accomplished than Kaifu at science and technology at least; wouldn’t they, based on their achievement alone, make much better role models than Kaifu, let alone the shared background. As much as I dislike to judge people based on their national and political background, I’m realistic to acknowledge that it does matter to some degree as far as role models for a nation’s young people are concerned. Why Kaifu when there are mainland Chinese in computer science, let alone science and technology in general, visibly more talented and accomplished? I can think of off the top of my head Robin Li, the founder of Baidu, who as far as technical computer science is concerned, did win a Rankdex patent that the Google guys cited in their PageRank paper, though he does not have a PhD, let alone from a top CS school like Carnegie Mellon. Robin Li was from a pretty average family in a so so place in China, tested into Beijing University, was very successful though not wildly so in the US, and later returned to China where he founded China’s top search engine that has also created its own deep learning library and framework called PaddlePaddle. He is visibly a much better role model for young Chinese interested in computer science and internet technology than Kaifu both in terms of his achievement and his national/social/political background, but he does not have the vanity of the likes of Kaifu, becoming a social media celebrity and publishing all this superficial, even misleading advice for young people.

As for the KMT background of Kaifu’s family, I hate to say it, but human reality is such that one’s political associations and actions affect indirectly to some degree or another the outcomes of one’s offspring, and thus, one also takes some responsibility for the actions/crimes of one’s ancestors. Yes, in one’s behavior, one should not only think of how it affects oneself in the short term, but also how it would in the long term affect those inextricably bound to oneself. History has already proven his family to have sided with the losers, with those who failed to save China, as “patriotic” as he may appear in his words. Maybe they had good intentions, but nobody in the right mind would believe that a political party and army who lost a civil war the way they did would have done a much better job developing and modernizing the country had they taken over. Again, it can easily be hard to speak for particular individuals, but that the KMT got massive aid from the US and managed to lose control of all of mainland China meant that they MUST have been a seriously rotten and incompetent organization.

So if he wants to be taken seriously by the majority of Chinese in mainland China as truly patriotic, he would have to do somewhat more in terms of tangible contribution directly towards China than a mainland Chinese would and perhaps also make some political move to at least implicitly denounce the political background he inherited from his family not by choice. Yes, he was part of the founding of Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing, which did help cultivate many computer science talents in China and likely also transferred some substantial technology to Chinese companies. Quite applaudable. Still, Microsoft is not a Chinese company, and Google much less so, as advanced as they may be in their technology. Kaifu has not as far as I can tell made any meaningful and recognized contribution to an important Chinese company or organization. So people are naturally skeptical, especially given his public intellectual activities and Weibo celebrity status, which some suspect to be supported behind the scenes, perhaps even directly from Washington itself, in the likes of Holmes’s case.

It does seem that Kaifu Lee is no longer that big in China now compared to a decade ago. Surely, Fang Zhouzi discredited him quite a bit, and the courage it took in Fang to question a figure as high up and “authoritative” as Kaifu Lee is very admirable. And he did so in a very detailed, factual, and objective way, in contrast to the vague, generic advice Kaifu has given to young people.

As for Kaifu Lee’s Google background, I do recall how an ex-Googler from China, who characterized himself as a Han chauvinist 😉 had said that certainly his having worked for Google would not be considered a plus in the case that he later tries to make a serious career in some very government organization in China. I was somewhat surprised, but in retrospect, I can see how that is the case. So suspicion of Kaifu Lee in China is but natural.

It was certainly amusing how he regarded limitations to his career prospects within the Chinese government and its organizations as a much bigger deal to him than Google. Well, after all, the Chinese government runs a near superpower that is the largest economy (by PPP) and most populous nation on earth, whereas Google merely runs the most advanced internet search and distributed systems (and likely also AI) company in the world. Google needs the Chinese market much more than China needs Google. Without Google, China still has plenty of similar products which may not be technically as good but are definitely good enough. They left back in 2010 purportedly out of objections to censorship compliance, and now they’re trying to return with another censored search product, that 1000+ of its rather politically delusional employees are jointly protesting against. Of course, there is also that that guy is well aware how as a mainland Chinese, there’s basically no way he’ll ever rise up to even a modest position of power within Google, unless he sells his soul, as even the ones who joined quite early on were unable to do so, so there’s not much to lose anyway.