Saturday, September 22, 2018

AI: "Kai-Fu Lee"

Following up on Wednesday's "If You Read Only One Column On Artificial Intelligence This Month...".
If you read more than one, here's:

From IEEE Spectrum:

Former Head of Google China Foresees an AI Crisis—and Proposes a Solution
Q&A: Kai-Fu Lee talks about AI, jobs, and the human heart
When the former president of Google China talks about artificial intelligence and its potential to cause global upheaval, people listen. His hope is that enough people will listen to avert catastrophic disruption on three different scales: to the global balance of power, to national economies, and to human beings’ delicate souls.

Kai-Fu Lee has been fascinated by AI since he was an eager computer science student applying to Carnegie Mellon University’s Ph.D. program; his admission essay extolled the promise of AI, which he called “the quantification of the human thinking process.” His studies led him to executive positions in Apple, Microsoft, and Google China, before his 2009 founding of Sinovation Ventures, a venture-capital firm focusing on high-tech companies in China.
His new book, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), is something of a bait and switch. The first half explores the diverging AI capabilities of China and the United States and frames the discussion as a battle for global dominance. Then, he boldly declares that we shouldn’t waste time worrying about who will win and says the “real AI crisis” will come from automation that wipes out whole job sectors, reshaping economies and societies in both nations. 

“Lurking beneath this social and economic turmoil will be a psychological struggle,” he writes. “As more and more people see themselves displaced by machines, they will be forced to answer a far deeper question: In an age of intelligent machines, what does it mean to be human?”
In a wide-ranging Q&A with IEEE Spectrum, Lee not only explored this question further, he also gave his answer. 
Kai-Fu Lee on . . .
  1. Why China Will Overtake the U.S. in AI
  2. “50 Percent of Jobs Are in Danger”
  3. The Inevitability of the AI Revolution 
  4. Facing Death
  5. A “Blueprint for Coexistence”

Why China Will Overtake the U.S. in AI

IEEE Spectrum: Why do you believe that China will soon match or even overtake the United States in developing and deploying AI?
Kai-Fu Lee: The first and foremost reason is that we’ve transitioned out of an era of discovery—when the person who makes the discovery has a huge edge—and into an era of implementation. The algorithms for AI are pretty well known to many practitioners. What matters now is speed, execution, capital, and access to a large amount of data. In each of these areas, China has an edge.

That’s why I began the book by talking about China’s entrepreneurism. It’s not like Silicon Valley, which is built on iPhone breakthroughs and SpaceX innovations, it’s built on incredibly hard work. Chinese entrepreneurs find areas where there’s enough data and a commercially viable application of AI, and then they work really hard to make the application work. It’s often very hard, dirty, ugly work. The data isn’t handed to you on a silver platter.

Spectrum: You say that Chinese tech giants like Tencent have a clear advantage in terms of access to data that’s needed to train AI. Do they really have more data than companies like Google?
Lee: There are a few ways to look at the data advantage. The first is how many users you have. Google probably has more users than Tencent, because it’s international. The second question is: How homogenous is your data set? Google’s data from Estonia may not help its work in India. It may be better to have rich data from one set of people who have the same language, culture, preferences, usage patterns, payment methods, and so on.

The third way to measure is how much data you have about each person. Tencent has a catch-all app, WeChat, that does basically everything. The average Chinese Internet user spends half of his or her time online in WeChat. When you open WeChat, you have access to everything U.S. users get from Facebook, Twitter, iMessage, Uber, Expedia, Evite, Instagram, Skype, PayPal, GrubHub, LimeBike, WebMD, Fandango, YouTube, Amazon, and eBay.

Spectrum: You describe China’s startup ecosystem as a brutal “coliseum” where companies don’t win because they’re the most innovative, but rather because they’re the best at copying, using dirty tricks, and working insane schedules.
Lee: There is creativity, but it’s just one tool. Another is copying. Entrepreneurs do whatever it takes to win, to build value for the user, and to make money. If you look at WeChat, you can’t point to one moment when it shocked the world like an iPhone. WeChat today is an amazing innovation, but it didn’t come about because someone at Tencent dreamed it up and built it and shocked the world. They kept layering on features that users wanted, they iterated, they threw away the features that didn’t work, and at the end they had a product that was the most innovative social network. It’s so good that Facebook is now copying them.


“50 Percent of Jobs Are in Danger”

Spectrum: You write that the big AI question isn’t whether China or the United States will dominate. Instead it’s how we’ll deal with the “real AI crisis” of job losses, wealth inequality, and people’s sense of self-worth.
Lee: AI will take many single-task, single-domain jobs away. You can argue that humans have abilities that AI does not: We can conceptualize, strategize, create. Whereas today’s AI is just a really smart pattern recognizer that can take in data, optimize, and beat humans at a given task. But how many jobs in the world are simple repetitions of tasks that can be optimized? How many jobs require no creativity, strategizing,
conceptualization? Most jobs are repetitive: truck-driving, telemarketing, dishwashing, fruit picking, assembly-line work, and so on. I’m afraid that about 50 percent of jobs in the world are in danger.

Whether these jobs will disappear in 15 years or 20 or 30, that’s debatable. But it’s inevitable. Not only can AI do a better job, it can do the job for almost marginal cost. Once you get the system up and running you just pay for the server, electricity, bandwidth. To be competitive, companies will be forced to automate. And this shift will happen a lot faster than has ever happened before in the history of humanity.

Spectrum: Why do you think “techno-utopians” have it wrong when they say that AI will ultimately create entirely new categories of jobs, just like the industrial revolution?