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Artificial intelligence

Baidu CEO Robin Li says artificial intelligence will have much bigger impact on society than the internet

An IMF study of 30 OECD member countries found that about 26 million jobs globally will ‘probably disappear’ as a result of advances in AI

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 1:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 11:04pm

Artificial intelligence will have a much bigger impact on society than the internet in the decades ahead because of its potential to transform the way businesses and industries work, according to Baidu chairman Robin Li Yanhong.

“If the internet was the appetizer, then AI is the main course,” Li said onstage at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York, where he was discussing technology changes with International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde. “The internet changed a lot of our daily lives, but did not have much impact on the 2B industries. I think AI will change that.”

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AI, comprising technologies which perform tasks that are characteristic of human intelligence, such as understanding language and recognising objects and sounds, has been a contentious subject, with tech leaders like Elon Musk warning of technology running amok and governments studying the potential disruptive impact on jobs.

Others argue that AI will raise productivity and free up labour to pursue higher-value work, especially pertinent for developed economies with ageing populations. China has made the pursuit of AI a national priority, setting out a plan to become a leader in the technology by 2030.

An IMF study of 30 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries found that about 26 million jobs globally will “probably disappear” as a result of advances in AI, Lagarde said in a video of the session.

Women are also more likely to be more affected by men by the impact of AI because there are more women doing jobs that involve repetitive tasks, she said.

Li said that while machines will replace a lot of jobs currently performed by humans, AI will also create a lot of new jobs, such as in areas like data labelling, where humans tag the data and feed them to computers to learn.

He added that “it’s hard for me or anyone to imagine what new job opportunities will be created” in the future, though he sees “more opportunities than threats”.

Still, the promise of shorter working hours due to productivity gains means people will have more time to consume content, which is generally created by humans and requires creativity. “Computers are not good at that yet,” Li said.

“We do have a lot of opportunities,” Li said. “But that being said, there are constraints, like how do you protect privacy, how do you make sure technology does not get out of control and do bad things to mankind. There are things that we need to worry about but I do see more opportunities than threats.”