You and A. I.

On 9 December, Chair Professor of Computer Science and Associate Vice President of Hong Kong Baptist University, Prof Liu Jiming, came to UIC to give a talk titled ‘You and A.I.’. The room was filled with students eager to hear from Prof Liu, as he is an expert in his field, and had a lot to teach the students about Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).

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Prof Liu first discussed that A.I. was developed in 1956, when ten professors from different disciplines, including John McCarthy (known as the father of A.I.), came together at Dartmouth College to discuss A.I.

Next, Prof Liu talked about AlphaGo, a robot that uses A.I. to play the game of “Go”, which is a Chinese abstract strategy board game. AlphaGo was the first computer programme to beat a human player in the game, specifically the Go world champion. This was seen as shocking to many, and people became wary of A.I.’s strength and power. However, Prof Liu discussed that we shouldn’t be so afraid of A.I., because we can master it since we created it.

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Prof Liu discussed how robots using A.I. are trained to recognize patterns and do actions based off inputs. He detailed how even in daily uses, A.I. is used, like for example, the popular Taobao app uses A.I. to suggest which items you should purchase next, and try to persuade you to add them to your cart. The service is looking at your patterns of buying, recognizing these patterns, and then recommending future purchases based on this. For example, if many people who purchase notebooks seem to also purchase pens, Taobao may suggest this to the customer as their next purchase.

Later in the lecture, Prof Liu showed examples of possibilities a computer would need to evaluate in a game of Go, like where to move and to memorize possibilities. He pointed out that the computer trains itself as it learns.

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Prof Liu discussed how robots can take over jobs that could be considered boring and dangerous, which, if implemented properly, can leave room for the people with these jobs to take on higher up roles in the science and artistic communities. The building of A.I. requires a whole new skillset of workers that will create jobs and not just take away menial ones. Prof Liu iterated that A.I. technology has the power to help us solve problems while we can engage in more creative endeavours.

During the lecture, Prof Liu detailed that there are many benefits of A.I. technology, including increased simplicity and more creative control, using the example that in Germany people can now design their own cars from start to finish thanks to A.I. manpower. “One day, smart products will know what you need before you do,” said Prof Liu, emphasizing that A.I. is here to make our lives easier and more efficient.

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He also discussed how A.I. is already starting to transform the business world through targeted advertising, like the earlier mentioned Taobao example. A.I. can be used as a template for smart cities, with opportunities for development in parking, the environment, public safety, shopping and more.

“Now that the A.I. hype has peaked, what’s next?” asked Prof Liu. He followed up by saying that it is very important that a universal code of ethics is followed and created, detailing who is responsible if things go wrong, and what the threats really are. Prof Liu also showed several videos throughout his presentation, featuring professionals in the field of A.I. discussing the future of the field.

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“The power of A.I. is that they infer a lot, and they know us better than we know ourselves,” said Prof Liu. He also discussed how A.I. develops quickly, but the ethical issues of A.I. are lagging behind, which is why he believes a code of ethics for A.I. is crucial. Prof Liu said that it is very important that we “Infuse technology with humanity” when going forward with A.I.

To finish his presentation, Prof Liu discussed how A.I. can be used for social good, in particular highlighting how it can be used for disease control and prevention. Prof Liu discussed current research he is doing in Yunnan that uses A.I. to predict the likelihood of disease in certain areas. A disease transmission network will then be extrapolated using A.I. in order to best distribute resources to areas that need them the most. Prof Liu concluded his presentation optimistically by saying “Let’s build a better world with A.I.”.  

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During the Q and A session, students were eager to ask the professor questions. One student asked Prof Liu whether computers have feelings. Prof Liu answered by saying that positive and negative sentiment can be hardcoded into a computer, but that computers can’t really authentically “feel”. There is a whole process of sentiment modelling, but it will simply be the computer learning from its inputs and surroundings to respond appropriately.

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Another student asked if A.I. only increases the gap between the wealthy and the poor. Prof Liu answered that there is the potential for that to happen, but that it is vital that support systems, including social support are implemented in unison with the advancements in A.I. to overcome this. “We have to balance technological innovation with helping others,” said Prof Liu.

Reporter/Photographer: Samantha Burns
Editors: Samuel Burgess, Deen He
(from MPRO)