Sci­en­tist urges so­ci­ety to em­brace ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE - By KARL WIL­SON

karl­wil­son@chi­nadai­lya­pac. com

At the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Dalian in June it was claimed that in 43 per­cent of the top aca­demic pa­pers re­lat­ing to AI, or ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, one or more of the pub­lish­ing re­searchers were Chi­nese, re­gard­less of where in the world they were work­ing.

Fur­ther­more, it was said that China is fast be­com­ing a crit­i­cal global hub for AI de­vel­op­ment.

China’s proud his­tory of math­e­mat­ics, engi­neer­ing and sci­ence has be­come the foun­da­tion for the coun­try’s fu­ture in the 21st cen­tury as it po­si­tions it­self to be­come not only a tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tor but leader.

Pro­fes­sor Tao Dacheng is a prod­uct of that tal­ent pool.

When Tao joined the Univer­sity of Syd­ney’s fac­ulty of engi­neer­ing and in­for­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies in 2016, he was ranked by Thom­son Reuters as one of the most cited re­searchers in his field — engi­neer­ing and com­puter sci­ence.

Re­cently he was named the in­au­gu­ral di­rec­tor of a new re­search cen­ter the Aus­tralian univer­sity has set up with UBTECH Robotics — a world leader in hu­manoid robotics based in Shen­zhen in South China’s Guang­dong prov­ince — to “ex­plore the un­tapped op­por­tu­ni­ties ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence will bring to mankind”.

But not ev­ery­one shares Tao’s en­thu­si­asm for AI and where it could take us as hu­man be­ings.

Pro­fes­sor Stephen Hawk­ing, au­thor of A Brief His­tory of Time and one of the great­est sci­en­tists of his gen­er­a­tion, is on record as say­ing the de­vel­op­ment of “full ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence” could spell the end of the hu­man race.

Other lu­mi­nar­ies ques­tion­ing where AI is tak­ing us have in­cluded bil­lion­aire tech en­tre­pre­neur Elon Musk, Mi­crosoft founder Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak, in­ven­tor of the Ap­ple com­puter. Tao has his own views. “To un­der­stand ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is to un­der­stand hu­man in­tel­li­gence,” he said. “Hu­man in­tel­li­gence is about four cat­e­gories of ca­pa­bil­i­ties — per­ceiv­ing, learn­ing, rea­son­ing and be­hav­ior.

“If we can put such ca­pa­bil­i­ties into ma­chines, those ma­chines will be able to carry out func­tions like hu­mans. They may even per­form bet­ter than hu­mans on some spe­cific tasks.

“That is the chal­lenge with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence … trans­fer­ring those hu­man ca­pa­bil­i­ties to a ma­chine.”

Tao un­der­stands the fears many ex­press about AI.

“Ear­lier this year, the world’s best Go player was beaten by Google’s Al­phaGo,” he said, re­fer­ring to the an­cient Chi­nese board game and the AI de­vel­oped to tackle it.

“A long time ago, AI re­searchers thought that com­put­ers can play chess but not Go, be­cause Go is more com­plex. When Al­phaGo beat the best player, the com­mu­nity raised more ques­tions about AI.”

Tao agrees there is much un­cer­tainty about AI and the im­pact it will have on hu­mans.

“But we can’t deny the ben­e­fits. We are liv­ing in a world where tech­nol­ogy is tak­ing over more of what we do. Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is sim­ply tak­ing us to the next level.

“As hu­mans we are able to make de­ci­sions and re­act or be­have in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions,” he said.

“I ex­pect some­time in the fu­ture we will have ma­chines that will be able to do the same thing. Not only that, they will have the ca­pa­bil­ity to per­ceive and learn.”

Grow­ing up in North­west China, where his father was an en­gi­neer, Tao fell in love with math­e­mat­ics at an early age. He en­joyed the chal­lenge of tack­ling tricky math­e­mat­i­cal prob­lems.

“Some of my teach­ers sug­gested I should go into elec­tri­cal engi­neer­ing, but I found my­self drawn to tech­nol­ogy and com­puter sci­ence.

“I saw this as the fu­ture. I could have gone into the com­mer­cial world but found univer­sity suited me. It gave me free­dom to re­search and pass on knowl­edge to stu­dents …lots of stu­dents. These stu­dents will carry what we are do­ing to­day into the fu­ture.”

Tao said the study of AI is grow­ing as a re­search sub­ject.

“The ap­pli­ca­tion of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence cuts across all dis­ci­plines,” he said. “Take medicine: We are see­ing stu­dents trans­fer­ring across to study AI when they fin­ish their med­i­cal de­grees.

“It is very ex­cit­ing to mix AI with medicine. We can­not ask doc­tors to fully un­der­stand AI. The key is build­ing the bridge so that doc­tors can see the ben­e­fits of AI.

“We are al­ready see­ing AI be­ing used in surgery with great suc­cess. It will not re­place sur­geons or doc­tors, but it will en­hance their work. You still need a hu­man to mon­i­tor the tech­nol­ogy.”

Tao said ac­cess to UBTECH’s in­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy will put his team at the fore­front of train­ing, re­search and in­no­va­tion in robotics and AI.

“By uti­liz­ing UBTECH’s state-of-the-art tech­nol­ogy and out­stand­ing cre­ativ­ity, we will be able to thor­oughly de­velop, an­a­lyze and eval­u­ate AI al­go­rithms and the­o­ries for hu­manoid ro­bots, which will bridge the gap be­tween AI stud­ies in uni­ver­si­ties and real-world AI utiliza­tion.

“We’re work­ing to­ward a fu­ture where hu­manoid ro­bots walk out of our re­search cen­ter and into or­di­nary peo­ple’s house­holds.

“Yes, tech­nol­ogy is tak­ing over jobs that hu­mans once did. We saw it in Ja­pan, decades ago in the auto in­dus­try, where ro­bots started to do the work,” he said.

Tao noted how mod­ern tech­nol­ogy and AI now play a role in al­most ev­ery as­pect of our lives.

“Fa­cial recog­ni­tion can pick in­di­vid­u­als out in crowds, we have driver­less cars, surgery be­ing per­formed by ro­bots … this tech­nol­ogy is chang­ing the way we work and how we work.

“It is chang­ing the way we learn, dis­cover and com­mu­ni­cate.”

He added that so­ci­ety should em­brace AI, “not be afraid of it”.

“This tech­nol­ogy holds not only so­cial ben­e­fits but eco­nomic ben­e­fits as well. We are only at the be­gin­ning of this new revo­lu­tion,” he said.

Tao’s AI re­search focuses on com­puter vi­sion, deep learn­ing and sta­tis­ti­cal learn­ing.

Two years ago, when he was at the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy Syd­ney, he and his re­search team made a sig­nif­i­cant break­through in fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy. Such tech­nol­ogy is now be­ing used in many coun­tries around the world.

“Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence will give us a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what hu­man in­tel­li­gence is,” he said.

“It is not just about pro­gram­ming in­for­ma­tion into a com­puter or ro­bot. It is about other things as well, such as im­age pro­cess­ing, data min­ing, cog­ni­tive sciences, psy­chol­ogy and me­chan­i­cal engi­neer­ing.”

Much of Tao’s re­search has been with sight.

“About 80 per­cent of how we per­ceive the world comes from sight,” he said. “We can rec­og­nize ob­jects, but the ques­tion is still, why?

“Re­lated to this is our abil­ity to learn things and our abil­ity to rea­son, and how we be­have.”

Tao said Aus­tralia has made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to AI, ma­chine learn­ing and cog­ni­tion.

“Our prob­lem is at­tract­ing tal­ent,” he said. “We find many of our young, tal­ented peo­ple con­tinue to go over­seas, usu­ally to the US. In re­cent years, China is do­ing very well in at­tract­ing over­seas tal­ent.”

He said Aus­tralia has many top-qual­ity uni­ver­si­ties, but more fund­ing is needed “for us to sup­port our re­search and at­tract tal­ented re­searchers and re­tain our young grad­u­ates”.

“Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is the fu­ture, not only for Aus­tralia but for mankind,” Tao said. “There is no turn­ing back … it is a fact of life and we have to em­brace it.”

We’re work­ing to­ward a fu­ture where hu­manoid ro­bots walk out of our re­search cen­ter and into or­di­nary peo­ple’s house­holds.”

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