A Chat on AI with MIT Professor Max Tegmark and Cheetah Mobile CEO Fu Sheng

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On September 19, Fu Sheng, CEO of Cheetah Mobile, invited Professor Max Tegmark, Professor of Physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of book “Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” to the company’s headquarter in Beijing, for a short discussion. Cassie Sun of Cheetah Mobile served as the moderator. Here are three of the biggest takeaways from that discussion:

1. China is leading the way in the everyday application of AI

AI is a popular topic in both China and the United States, but the extent to which it has become a part of everyday life has varied. As Professor Tegmark mentioned in the discussion, certain AI tools such as mobile payment systems have become commonplace in China, much more so that in the West. Platforms such as WeChat have become the de facto method for payment in China, whereas similar tools have failed to take off in the United States.

Not only that, the number of papers on AI contributed by Chinese researchers outnumbers those submitted by those not of Chinese ancestry. But, as Fu Sheng points out, most of the “key papers” – that is to say, those that include groundbreaking research or innovative applications, are not being contributed by intellectuals working in China. For him, the “status quo of AI in China and the United States” is this: while Chinese companies are “able to apply a verified technology at a larger scale and with higher efficiency”, they are still lagging when it comes to producing “groundbreaking or innovative thinking” about artificial intelligence.

2. Culture plays a large role when advancing AI

During the discussion, Professor Tegmark spoke at length about the role that culture plays when it comes to developing technology and applications. In the case of the United States, says Tegmark, the fact that research is being conducted not only by Americans but by people from all around the world is a major contributor to its role as an AI superpower — a fact borne out by his own experience as a Swede working in the United States alongside talented students from many countries, including China.

But, he notes, Americans don’t think as much about the long term – or, rather, what they consider to be the long run may only be a few years down the road. The Chinese, on the other hand, are more likely to think about the impact that something will have ten, twenty, or even thirty years in the future, because it is an intrinsic part of their culture. That is perhaps one reason why the implementation of AI solutions has happened so much more rapidly in China than in the West.

3. AI safety will be an issue — but not in the way most people think

Where do we draw the line with AI? This is a complicated question, and one that not all researchers agree on. However, it is generally agreed that AI should not have the ability to kill or harm human beings, and there are many in the field who are against the prospect of AI-powered weapons altogether. As the founder of the Future of Life Institute, as well as a campaign to say no to killer robots, Professor Tegmark has long been an advocate for a ban on the weaponization of AI.

But in the case of driverless cars, for example, which have the potential to do a great deal of good, there is also a very real possibility that the car might cause harm to somebody in order to prevent harm from occurring to others. Consequently, it’s important for those developing AI technologies to think about the possible physical consequences that might occur.

When Cheetah Mobile was developing Cheetah GreetBot, a robot whose purpose is to greet customers and act as a sort of robot receptionist, these concerns played an important role in determining the finished product. As Fu Sheng pointed out, when developing something with a physical presence, it is imperative to think about how it will interact with the space around it. Does the robot have hands? If so, is there a danger of the robot reaching out and hitting someone or something? Additionally, is there a possibility that someone could hack into the software, and manipulate the robot into causing harm to someone? All of these possibilities need to be accounted for.

As artificial intelligence becomes more advanced, people are understandably becoming worried about what this means for the future of the human race. But, as Professor Tegmark noted, how powerful a superintelligent entity becomes is entirely dependent on how it is built. “We have the freedom to decide what kind of god we’re going to build,” he said. “We can decide what kind of culture we want, and build a society where everybody can be better off than they are today.”

Yuan Sun, Cassie is Director of Overseas PR for Cheetah Mobile, a leading mobile internet company with strong global vision. Cheetah Mobile is the company behind a suite of AI robotics products including Cheetah GreetBot a full-sized receptionist robot designed to interact with visitors/customers and guide them to their destinations; Cheetah VendBot, a roaming vending machine robot for use in malls, libraries, university buildings and other public spaces; and Cheetah Café, a robotic barista featuring two fully independent robotic arms.


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