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AI Expert Kai-Fu Lee Says We Need to ‘Embrace’ the Game-Changing Technology

3 minute read

AI expert and Sinovation Ventures CEO Dr. Kai-Fu Lee took the stage at the TIME 100 Summit in New York on Tuesday to discuss the current state of artificial intelligence, arguing that it will do as much for society’s well-being as electricity. In his talk, Lee also touched on how governments and businesses can take advantage of artificial intelligence to improve nearly everything from infrastructure to the relationship between individuals and the companies handling their data.

Lee showcased examples of AI applications, like warehouse machines that use computer vision to move and sort boxes, and an AI-powered rapper capable of generating rhymes based on any topic. Lee also highlighted an AI technique known as deep learning, and how it could be and has been used to generate false information, demonstrating with a fabricated audio clip of President Donald Trump. New machine learning techniques, like generative adversarial networks, have created real images of nonexistent people, as well as legit-looking news stories full of false information.

Artificial intelligence generating fabricated audio, images, or stories is a major concern, especially when combined with the ongoing rise of fake news. “What’s more, biases inherent in machine learning software will continue to perpetuate an inequity between minorities and underrepresented communities,” said Lee, a comment addressing lack of training data for underrepresented communities, leading to a marked decrease in accuracy and effectiveness for those users.

He also showed how AI is capable of providing a positive impact in China, where teachers in impoverished areas of the country are able to take advantage of the technology to grade tests and assign homework. “It’s an experience that will break down the barrier to education for those who need it,” said Lee. (Of course, AI is also being used in China and elsewhere for facial recognition security software that some are concerned can violate citizens’ rights.)

Privacy, a hot-button issue in a time when user data gathered by major corporations is mismanaged or abused, is also on the list of problems artificial intelligence can tackle, Lee argues. “Certainly regulations are needed to prevent the most egregious misuse of data,” said Lee. But at the same time, Lee thinks technologists will eventually develop AI-powered tools to protect users while giving them the freedom to choose their level of privacy. “We can imagine a slider that gives each individual a choice, that gives an individual more security or more convenience,” said Lee, equating the idea to companies in the past that once created anti-virus software for computers.

He also discussed job displacement occurring alongside the proliferation of artificial intelligence. “I think governments need to think about education, training, and changing the society’s belief about compassion and work,” said Lee, who thinks redesigned vocational programs and a focus on “compassionate work” should be considered when it comes to training a workforce.

As for jobs, Lee isn’t shy about the coming disruption thanks to artificial intelligence. Customer service, telemarketing, and accounting jobs will all be subject to “serious job displacement issues,” according to Lee, and finding new careers for workers in the field will require difficult retraining. But Lee thinks, like electricity, AI’s potential to revolutionize every aspect of our daily life is more tangible than theoretical. “AI is here to stay, and i think we need to rise up to the occasion and embrace it.”

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Write to Patrick Lucas Austin at patrick.austin@time.com