AI is not a threat, it is an opportunity that should be grasped

Ni Tao
AI can be a force for good that empowers man and stimulates creativity in the workplace.
Ni Tao

Asian countries should join hands to navigate a world full of new challenges posed by growing protectionism and technological innovations, according to a high-profile forum that opened on Saturday in Shanghai.

The Shanghai Forum, which was held annually since 2005 under the auspices of Fudan University and the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies, will run through Monday.

This year more than 700 scholars, diplomats, officials, businesspeople and opinion leaders from 45 countries and regions have come to Shanghai to discuss topics ranging from geopolitics to brain science, from artificial intelligence to green finance, and from deeper integration of the Yangtze River Delta to industrial renewal.

The forum brings together some of the world's most prominent thinkers and speakers to share their insights into the most pressing issues of the day.

Coming almost a fortnight after the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations in Beijing, this year's forum features the theme "Asia Amidst Global Reshuffling: Challenges, Development and New Paradigms."

In his opening speech, Vice Mayor of Shanghai Chen Qun said the spirit underlying the Shanghai Forum echoes Chinese President Xi Jinping's emphasis on building closer bonds among countries and civilizations to foster common development and prosperity.

"We expect the Shanghai Forum to continue to play a pioneering role in contributing wisdom as Shanghai transitions into a vanguard in China's new round of reform and opening up," Chen told the audience.

Xu Ningsheng, president of Fudan University, said in a keynote speech that "as the world economy becomes more diverse, deglobalization has reared its ugly head in some regions."

And the advent of technologies such as AI, big data and quantum computing has encouraged new industries, market opportunities and business models.

But they also have complicated the challenges confronting mankind, Xu said.

In rising to these challenges, he said we need to marry technology with candid dialogues among nations to create a new paradigm for cooperation that transcends time and geographical borders.

Notwithstanding the tremendous inroads China has made since its reform and opening-up 40 years ago, it still lags behind the developed world in many areas. 

Therefore, the country is receptive to the knowledge, expertise and best practices that can be acquired over the course of more extensive engagements with other nations, said Wang Jiarui, vice chairman of the 12th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference National Committee.

Recounting his experience as concurrent chair of the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation, a chief patron of youth exchange, Wang said the Shanghai Forum can serve as a platform to spread good will and extend friendships between future generations of Asian leaders.

Universities are often pivotal in bolstering people-to-people links, and the University of Sydney will partner with Fudan University in several joint research and knowledge-sharing programs as part of the new memorandum of understanding the two schools signed in Shanghai on Saturday.

Reflecting on synergies in the education field, Michael Spence, vice chancellor and principal of the Australian university, called for rethinking the role of educators in a changing world.

This can start with a shift of focus from geopolitical changes to the challenges brought by AI and the much-hyped Fourth Industrial Revolution, be believes.

"Universities are going to be crucial in building bridges between countries, people and researchers," said Spence.

Other than the academia, enterprises have been among players keenest to explore new opportunities that have arisen across a spectrum of AI-powered industries. 

Zhu Wei, senior managing director and chairman of Accenture China, said the development of AI algorithms and related applications hinges upon massive data and China is a world leader in acquisition of data critical to, among others, data mining and deep learning.

He explained that the pessimistic perception of AI as a threat to job security is not only misleading but also dangerously short-sighted.

In his opinion, the key to overcoming exaggerated fears of AI is through realizing that enhanced interaction between humans and machines will create jobs that free people from dangerous, repetitive and uninspired employment.

"In this sense, AI is a force for good that empowers man and stimulates creativity in the workplace," said Zhu.

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