The Irreversible Rise of AI: A Short History with Long-lasting Implications
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In its fourth year, and amid an unprecedented rise in technology use in lockdown, the strategic importance of the World Artificial Intelligence Conference becomes more pertinent than ever.
The rise of technology has changed our lives forever. Human civilization has experienced several industrial revolutions in recent history, each of them pushing our progress further by defying limitations through technology.
In particular, AI technology has taken the world by storm — in just 70 years. It has effected change across every single industry and, in doing so, has become indispensable. We can make anything happen with a single click — from something as ubiquitous as online shopping to futuristic self-driving vehicles. You can start a business with less than $100 and find a client base online. You can transfer money to the other side of the world in an instant with your phone. Our smart houses are transitioning to entire smart cities. The list goes on and our imagination is the only limit.
However, while this technology can be used to improve our lives, it can also be exploited — usually by the rich and powerful. So, with this power imbalance in mind, is AI morally sustainable?
To delve into this philosophical question — objectively or subjectively — we must first look at how it all began.
The dawn of artificial intelligence
“Can machines think?” asked Alan Turing in his 1950 paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence on measuring a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.
The Dartmouth Workshop in 1956 saw John McCarthy coin the term officially and describe the industry’s goals: “Every aspect of learning or intelligence can, in principle, be described with such precision that a machine can be made to simulate it. We will try to discover how to make machines use language, solve problems currently reserved for humans, and improve themselves.”
Since then, AI has developed in leaps and bounds — but not equally across the world.
In the 1960s, the US was putting a man on the moon, while China was struggling to feed its billion-strong population. While the US and more economically developed countries sustained growth in research efforts by both public institutions and private sectors, China was still conducting low value-added activities in global manufacturing. Therefore, it’s not surprising that there was a significant difference in AI research between China and the US — until the 2000s, particularly the 2008 financial crisis.
The adoption of AI technology is pushing governments and all kinds of corporations to adjust to new emerging realities. In my previous article Power, Influence and WAIC 2021, I described China’s rise as a challenger to those of developed countries and the making of Made in China 2025. The country’s grand strategy to increase its adoption of newly emerging technologies domestically has made it a strong competitor.
The Asian superpower is now a world leader in AI publications and patents, as shown in the chart below. Chinese researchers now publish more papers on AI and secure more patents than their counterparts in the US. This trend suggests that China is also poised to become a leader in AI-empowered businesses, such as speech- and image-recognition applications.
To understand the magnitude of China’s potential, the race to AI supremacy could be compared to an arms race. US weaknesses were pulled to the forefront during its response to the COVID-19 pandemic — and some governments and corporations are looking at the success of China’s authoritarian capitalism in a new light. From fintech to 5G infrastructure, China is beating the US in numbers.
The irreversible rise
It’s no secret that the giants of the business world — from Facebook to Stripe — use AI to increase their selling power by accumulating customer data and building algorithms.
With or without research, you can easily predict that half of the world’s current work activities may be replaced by AI-enabled systems. And many already have: self-checkouts, cashless and cardless payments, Siri and Alexa — and in China you can even make payments using facial recognition.
“It is obvious to those in the industry that we’re moving from an era of core competencies that differ from industry to industry to an age shaped by data and analytics and powered by algorithms — all hosted in the cloud for anyone to use,” said Marco Iansiti and Karim R. Lakhani in their article Competing in the Age of AI, which was published by Harvard Business Review.
More companies will adopt AI-centric solutions to monetize their businesses and collect more data to utilize for their benefit. This will accelerate the penetration of digitalization, making the world even smaller and faster.
But is AI just becoming a crutch for the privileged? With all the world’s pervasive inequalities, how can we ensure it benefits everyone? AI is owned by the rich and powerful, but can we break through the glass ceiling together?
With 400,000 attendees and 450 million people watching, the World Artificial Intelligence Conference 2021 is setting the stage for the future of AI collaboration
WAIC, the globe’s largest AI conference, is kicking off on July 7 2021. At the fourth edition of the conference, AI experts will discuss the most pressing questions, including those in this article, seek partnerships, and establish bias-free discussions.
The conference aims to further grow the AI industry through exciting competitions, exhibitions, and forums, one of which is the first iteration of the European Online Forum. The EOF will serve as an avenue for AI experts to discuss the latest industry updates and share their insights.
WAIC 2021 will stream the EOF for its European attendees who won’t be able to attend in Shanghai due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual attendees will also have the chance to participate in the forum and interact with other guests online.
EOF keynote speakers include:
- Federico Faggin, President at Federico and Elvia Faggin Foundation
- Gadi Singer, VP & Director, Cognitive Computing Research, Intel Labs
- Peter Vesterbacka, Chair of the Finest Bay Project and CEO of Slush
- Constantijn van Oranje, Prince of Holland, Envoy at Techleap.nl and Co-founder of Startup Fest Europe
- Davide Cali, Chair of European China Federation for AI and CEO of Expand
Read here for the full list of panels and speakers.