Shaping a smart world

Updated 2017-07-06 09:52:00 China Daily
Li Yanhong calls on people to embrace the AI era.

Li Yanhong calls on people to embrace the AI era.

Tech executives release new books in China on the future of artificial intelligence.

The next decade will belong to artificial intelligence. This is what Kai-fu Lee, a former executive with tech companies such as Google Inc and Microsoft Corp, said at his commencement speech to students at Columbia University on May 15.

Lee makes his point clearer in a new book, Artificial Intelligence, which he co-authored with Wang Yonggang, a former software engineer at Google.

The book was published in Chinese in May.

After getting his PhD in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in the 1980s, Lee devoted three decades in AI research.

"In the next 10 years, all financial companies will be turned upside down, with AI replacing traders, bankers, accountants ..." Lee said during his speech, joking that he would fire his private banker because his investment algorithm has proved to be more efficient than human bankers.

In their book, Lee and Wang predict that about 50 percent of the jobs held by humans now - jobs that require "less than five seconds of thinking" - will be replaced by AI in the near future.

The most promising fields where AI will play a greater role, Lee specifies, are auto driving, smart finance, machine translation and computer-aided clinical diagnosis.

Does that mean AI will make more people unemployed?

Lee's answer is: Yes, inevitably.

But he also sees an upcoming change in the types of jobs that people will soon pursue in response to the challenge from AI.

"At least half of the people should find their new positions in a future of man-machine collaboration," they write in the book.

While listing many tasks in which AI programs outperform people, the authors also include a chapter on what AI cannot possibly achieve - logical deduction and abstraction across different fields, imagination, aesthetic evaluation and human emotions, and self-consciousness.

Kai-fu Lee envisions more opportunities in turmoils of change.

Kai-fu Lee envisions more opportunities in turmoils of change.

"The unemployment problem caused by the use of AI programs and robots won't be as serious as many have been worried," according to the book. "Simple jobs will be replaced, and new jobs will be created."

In another new book, Intelligence Revolution: Embracing the Societal, Economic and Cultural Changes in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Li Yanhong, the founder of Baidu Inc, paints a similar picture but with more details. Published in April, the book is crammed with technological terms, company products and the Chinese tech company's AI vision.

It tries to tell those who are interested in the company how it will chart the course into the next big market, just as the book's title goes - "embracing the societal, economic and cultural changes in the age of artificial intelligence".

The company is one of the forerunners in AI research in China, and in his book, Li is urging the government to do deeper and wider AI research on a national level.

In his book, Li advocates using AI and big data to solve problems of child trafficking and traffic congestion, among other issues. He also made the proposal to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top advisory body, during its annual session in March. He is a member of the CPPCC.

Liu Cixin, the acclaimed science fiction writer, has written the preface for Intelligence Revolution.

Liu thinks that there are two possibilities of how human society will embrace the age of AI.

First, it may not adapt itself quickly to the wide use of AI, causing all kinds of social, economic and political problems.

"The world will be troubled by the waves of unemployment and the endless conflicts ensued," he writes in the preface.

Second, people make a successful transition, and it will be the biggest change ever in people's lives.

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