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WAIC forum talks up revolutionary tool as mankind braces for new era

AI is now a revolutionary tool that can upgrade global economic structure and compel mankind to better prepare for a new era, according to industrial officials attending the WAIC.

Artificial intelligence, which integrates cloud computing, data analysis and Internet of Things technologies, is now a revolutionary tool that can upgrade global economic structure and compel mankind to better prepare for a new era, according to industrial officials attending the World Artificial Intelligence Conference, which opened in Shanghai yesterday.

The WAIC, with the theme A New Era Empowered by Artificial Intelligence, has attracted influential AI scientists, entrepreneurs and government officials to talk opportunities and influence of AI. They had their first chance to interact at the WAIC’s opening forum yesterday.

Dong Jun / SHINE

Jack Ma, Alibaba Group’s co-founder and executive chairman, speaks at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai yesterday.

Chinese AI leaders

The world has now entered the AI 2.0 era with a “complete upgrade” and new information technology infrastructure, including Internet, mobile Internet, supercomputer and IOT, said Pan Yunhe, academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

Jack Ma, executive chairman of e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, said: “Data and AI have redefined productivity and productive relations.” 

“All enterprises and people should be prepared for the new AI age,” he said.

Pony Ma, Tencent’s chairman, predicted the coming of a “social everywhere” with “several dozens, even hundreds billion” connections, compared with WeChat’s 1 billion connections now.

AI, data and connections “linking all people and devices” is a global “Olympics,” which requires cross-border cooperation and cross-industry innovation, Ma added.

Tencent owns China’s leading gaming and messaging platform, including WeChat which has evolved into a multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app.

“In future, no firms can move on without AI,” said Robin Li, CEO of search engine Baidu, which has an “all-in” AI strategy.

Currently, only 4 percent of companies globally use real AI applications, which means there is a huge potential for the technology, according to global research and advisory firm Gartner, whose officials attended the forum.

Deep learning has brought AI onto the practical stage as evidenced by Xiaomi’s AI chatbot that has more than 30 million active monthly users. In the next stage, AI will be deeply integrated with 5G and IOT, said Lei Jun, the electronic company’s CEO.

Global players such as Microsoft, Amazon and SAP also shared their latest AI developments at the forum.

“Machine learning is experiencing a renaissance in the cloud (field), which creates a data-driven and machine learning-driven society,” revealed Swami Sivasubramanian, vice president of Amazon Web Services.

During WAIC, AWS announced the opening of its AWS Artificial Intelligence Lab in Shanghai, which is dedicated to making advanced AWS AI and machine learning services available to everyone and create a “democracy of AI.”

Meanwhile, Microsoft announced its new partnership with several Chinese organizations on an AI Park and cloud services.

Shanghai as a future hub

By 2020, Shanghai plans to generate 100 billion yuan (US$14.6 billion) from AI-powered industries, compared with 70 billion yuan in 2017.

The city will announce 22 new policies in five categories to boost AI development during the WAIC.

Shanghai will offer better conditions and business environment for AI development, covering talent, synergy innovation, industrial concentration and government-led financing and investment, said Chen Mingbo, director of the Shanghai Commission of Economy and Information Technology.

A total of 20 AI-related agreements were signed during the WAIC yesterday, covering firms like Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, JD.com, Huawei, SenseTime, Microsoft, ARM and Amazon.

Several industrial alliances were also founded, which will help AI firms protect patents, attract investment and improve cooperation with academic research organizations.

The Global Artificial Intelligence Academic Alliance, with members including MIT, Fudan University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, was among the associations established yesterday. 

One of the main reasons for Amazon to set up an AI lab in Shanghai is the city’s academic environment and talent resource, said Sivasubramanian.

The WAIC also saw the founding of the Artificial Intelligence Venture Capital Service Alliance, with members of top VC firms like Sequoia and Softbank.

Besides the opening forum, the three-day WAIC comprises four major parts — summits, application demo, special activities and innovation competition. Featuring “globalization, sophistication, specialization and market-orientation,” major WAIC events will be held until tomorrow. The application demo exhibitions will be open to the public after tomorrow.

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