Behold the Wooden Horse
When Servants Become Masters
He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. He causes all, both small and great, rich, and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666 (Rev. 13:14–18).
If you’re not a techno-geek, you may have missed the dawn of the “Age of Surveillance Capitalism” – a recent book by the author, Shoshana Zuboff. However, think about these recent events:
- An English online newspaper, The Guardian, reported that an Amazon Echo Dot advice in London had awakened itself, and began to randomly spout off a series of ecommerce transactions that the device’s owner had recently executed using the device. Among these, train tickets were booked, and the Echo Dot programmed the recording of television shows.
- A woman in Portland, Oregon reported that her Alexa device had ‘overheard’ private conversations, record them, then email them to an acquaintance.
Given tech products that are already easily available, and what is being now being developed in research labs in countries all over the world, it’s easy to see that our species is standing at a new crossroads. AI is going to play a central role in how society continues to develop, and like all technologies, whether it is for good or bad depends entirely on how mankind chooses to use the technology. There are two camps; the one that says, ‘all’s well, fear not’, and the other side that says, ‘proceed with caution’. Some researchers contend that AI will never deliver significant, practical value. Someone once said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. To that point, take this excerpt from a 1911 article in the Saturday Evening Post, written by one of the early inventors of the automobile (there were many).
“Things are very different today. But in the ’90’s, even though I had a successful bicycle business, and was building my first car in the privacy of the cellar in my home, I began to be pointed out as “the fool who is fiddling with a buggy that will run without being hitched to a horse.” My banker called on me to say: “Winton, I am disappointed in you.”
Today, the United States leads the world in total investment (private and public combined) in developing Artificial Intelligence. In 2020, total US investment was exceeded $23 Billion. China is in second place, with close to $10 Billion and while the gap is still significant, the Chinese government has made it a very high-level priority. They are keenly interested in speech and image recognition. Since 2015, American firms have raised 56% of total global capital that has been invested in AI. In China, most of the development comes from the universities and research institutes, most of which are government owned or sponsored. To really see how hard the Chinese are working to close the gap, just look at China’s global share of published AI research papers; in 1997, their contribution was just 4.3%. In 2017, they published 37,343 papers (27.8% of all published research papers, globally). The Chinese are focused on speech recognition, speech synthesis, and vision (image/ video recognition). A recent article by the Chinese journalist, Xiaomin Mou states that 73% of Chinese investment in AI has benefited the B2B Services, Lifestyle & Consumption, Transportation & Automobile and Health industry subsectors. In the United States, the National Science Foundation, along with Amazon, Google, Intel, Accenture, the Department of Homeland Security and USDA are cooperating to operate these new NSF AI institutes:
- for Collaborative Assistance and Responsive Interaction for Networked Groups
- for Advances in Optimization.
- for Learning-Enabled Optimization at Scale.
- for Intelligent Cyberinfrastructure with Computational Learning in the Environment.
- for Future Edge Networks and Distributed Intelligence
- for Edge Computing Leveraging Next-generation Networks
- for Dynamic Systems
- for Engaged Learning
- for Adult Learning and Online Education
- for Agricultural AI for Transforming Workforce and Decision Support
- for Resilient Agriculture
China’s relative command of the application of AI in their consumer markets has been an important insulator against foreign market competitors. The Chinese have mastered the use of machine learning and a sophisticated AI engine to analyze all available data points, including the millions of conversations consumers have about the brand online, which can be challenging because of the firewalled Chinese internet.
China’s marketers have an important advantage in understanding consumer brand and product sentiment and more importantly how sentiment changes over time. They use a combination of social listening and sophisticated modeling of how changes in sentiment impact purchase patterns. China’s brands use this technology strengthen their brand strategies and tactics, and it shows up in retail sales. China’s consumers have also rapidly adopted many products in the IOT (internet of things) category. These products range across a wide, and ever-increasing range of products such as smart phones, smart refrigerators, smartwatches, smart fire alarms, smart door locks, smart bicycles, medical sensors, fitness trackers, smart security systems and so on. By the end of this decade, more than 8 billion IOT devices will be connected to China’s firewalled internet. Capable of observing, measuring, and recording everything imaginable, these devices will be inescapable. Of course, those same products are growing in popularity in the United States, too.
This great leap forward in China’s development of AI was made a policy in 2017, when China announced in its ambition to become the world leader in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030. China is now making faster progress in AI than either the US or the EU. Central and local government spending on AI in China is estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars. In this field of research, there are two overwhelmingly important assets, data and computer science and engineering talent. China has strengths in both areas.
As AI is of strategic importance to China, the nation’s government has instituted an array or policies to support its growth. These policies send a clear signal to different AI stakeholders, including entrepreneurs, investors, and even researchers, that AI is a field that is being backed by the government and is worth corporate investment. China’s approach to AI development and implementation is fast-paced and pragmatic, oriented towards finding applications which can help solve real-world problems. Rapid progress is being made in the field of healthcare, Chinese corporations are investing in several areas; healthcare applications, such as AI Doctor chatbots, machine learning to increase the pace that pharmaceutical product development occurs at, deep learning for medical image processing (useful for early detection of certain diseases, such as cancer), and surveillance, and military applications. Two-thirds of global investment in artificial intelligence is pouring into China, one of the reasons that the AI industry there grow 67% last year alone.
These are the top five Chinese AI firms:
As developing AI is a top-down, centralized imperative, cross-sector partnerships connecting tech companies and research institutions have been developed at the local city, and regional levels. Municipal and provincial governments across China are establishing cross-sector partnerships with research institutions and tech companies to create local AI innovation ecosystems and drive rapid research and development. By 2025, all industries in China will be securely connected in an AI network; company control, and production will be AI-reliant.
AI will balance supply and demand. China has planned for an entire ecosystem that will support AI; legal frameworks, resources, goals, local-level adaptation – and of course, the capital to support continued growth in AI are all coming together rapidly. Government, too, plays a vital role. There are local and provincial incentives for the administration and politicians to assert themselves in the AI industry and to seek higher levels of responsibility. At the university level, hundreds of new AI professorships have been established, and hundreds of thousands of schools are being created.
As developing AI is a top-down, centralized imperative, cross-sector partnerships connecting tech companies and research institutions have been developed at the local city, and regional levels. Municipal and provincial governments across China are establishing cross-sector partnerships with research institutions and tech companies to create local AI innovation ecosystems and drive rapid research and development. By 2025, all industries in China will be securely connected in an AI network; company control, and production will be AI-reliant. AI will balance supply and demand. China has planned for an entire ecosystem that will support AI; legal frameworks, resources, goals, local-level adaptation – and of course, the capital to support continued growth in AI are all coming together rapidly. Government, too, plays a vital role. There are local and provincial incentives for the administration and politicians to assert themselves in the AI industry and to seek higher levels of responsibility. At the university level, hundreds of new AI professorships have been established, and hundreds of thousands of schools are being created.
If this sounds like science fiction to you so far, meet Hua Zhibing, a student enrolled in Tsinghua University in Beijing. Hua has been in love with literature and art since birth, she says. At six, Hua can write songs, poems, and draw. She is expected to be able to create websites soon. By the way, did I mention that Hua is also an AI-powered virtual student whose image has been seen around the world on Weibo — China’s answer to Twitter — and other social media? Hua absorbs data such as text, images, and videos. She is believed to has some reasoning and emotional interaction abilities. In another year, she will have the intellect of a 12-year-old, and she will continue to develop after that, too. Researchers involved in the project hope that at some point, she will have a higher EQ (emotional intelligence) so that she will be able to communicate like a real human. The AI software that runs Hua uses 1.75 trillion parameters that allow ‘her’ to simulate conversational speech, write poems and understand pictures. It surpassed the record of 1.6 trillion parameters set by Google’s Switch Transformer. It’s not science fiction, and it’s happening faster than most of us can comprehend.
We’re converging on a point where science fiction and reality are becoming the same thing. It’s only a matter of time before robots and AI replace humans in manufacturing, design, delivery and even marketing of most goods, lowering costs to a tiny fraction above materials costs. AI-driven robots will self-replicate, self-repair, and even partially self-design. Houses and apartment buildings will be designed by AI and use prefabricated modules that robots put together like toy blocks. And just-in-time autonomous public transportation, from robo-buses to robo-scooters, will take us anywhere we want to go. In 2020, Forbes magazine published statements from a report by the World Economic Forum; their prediction is that by 2025, 85 million global jobs will be replaced by automation (AI and robots). To raise concerns more, WEF also projects that the current 70/30 split between jobs done by people vs. machines will also have switched to a 50/50 split. Consider the kinds of work that technology, produced by these leading Chinese firms, is already capable of producing:
There was a time when machines were clearly tools to make people’s paths easier. For millennia, they mostly served our needs, although there were always occasions for their utility to be turned in harmful directions. The great cellist, Pablo Cassals once made a comment that seems especially insightful now, though, “Man has made many machines, complex and cunning, but which of them indeed rivals the workings of his heart?”, and those are the words we’ll use to end this month’s blog.
Word4Asia is a consulting firm that assists organizations with strategic growth plans focused on mainland China. We’re proud of the relationships we’ve enjoyed, and the service we’ve provided our clients for more than twenty years. Perhaps your eye is on China, too? We hope you’ll reach out to us. I’d be happy to talk with you and see if there is anything in our experience that benefits you. I’m pretty sure there is! Contact me at email@example.com.
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