Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence won’t replace humans anytime soon, say China’s tech leaders

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 November, 2016, 4:08pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 3:24pm

While there’s no doubt artificial intelligence (AI) is the new frontier, AI applications won’t be able to perform complicated jobs or replace humans anytime soon, China’s tech leaders said on Thursday.

Technology companies in China and the rest of the world are exploring opportunities in AI, but the foundation for the technology is still not mature, said Pony Ma Huateng, chairman and chief executive of Chinese internet powerhouse Tencent Holdings.

“Cloud computing driven by AI and big data are absolutely the new frontier but... I think we still need a lot of effort in building the foundation, for example we need better algorithms,” Ma said at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen.

It is possible for AI technology to be used in various industries with different applications but because current technology development is too preliminary AI is unable to perform complicated tasks, he added.

“We have been discussing AI for a decade, but only saw a breakthrough over the past year after [Google’s] Alpha Go beat a human [playing Go]. However, applying AI technology in various industries is not that simple. We are still far away from achieving this,” Ma said.

Tencent and China’s two other technology giants Baidu and Alibaba Group – collectively known as BAT – have all been investing in developing AI technologies.

There is still a long way to go to create human-like AI applications. So AI can only do some simple tasks in the near future
Yang Yuanqing, Lenovo chairman

Starting in 2013, Baidu began developing its AI system, Baidu Brain, which is now powering applications in image recognition, voice recognition and its autonomous cars. Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post, has expanded its AI applications into areas such as traffic control, customer services, and real-time voice recognition.

Among BAT, Tencent was the latest to join the AI frenzy. Yet Ma said: “Every technology company will explore opportunities in AI and integrate it with the company’s advantages. In the past, when one company seized the opportunity in the mobile internet sector, it didn’t mean that other companies had lost the chance.”

Speaking at the same conference, Yang Yuanqing, chairman and chief executive of computer maker Lenovo Group, said the development of AI technology is still at a very early stage.

“There is still a long way to go to create human-like AI applications. So AI can only do some simple tasks in the near future,” he said.

But AI will become an important element in developing smart devices, Yang said. “We may not care about the shape of a smart device in the future, but will focus on how to integrate AI with the smart device which will be able to help people solve more problems.”