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Benign AI serves the welfare of all humanity

Author  :  Gao Qiqi and Li Yang     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-09-05

The State Council of China released the Development Plans on the New Generation of Artificial Intelligence on July 8, which prioritized AI as a national strategy.

Intelligent platforms are becoming increasingly crucial to humanity. However, if the relationship between humanity and AI is not appropriately tackled, the genie could escape the bottle, bringing about plenty of uncontrollable risks. Therefore, one of the foremost objectives in the field is to ensure that AI remains benign. 

The growing power of science is reshaping the modern world through the fourth technological revolution: genomics is unlocking the secrets of human life; through new materials research we are discovering how to alter the properties of matter; alternative energy technologies are providing cleaner sources of power, and virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality are further blurring the boundaries between the real and the virtual world. The influence of science on humanity is starting to challenge our wildest expectations.

So what is the goal of artificial intelligence? It should be to improve the productive forces of human society through technological progress to ensure a solid material basis for the realization of social equality and justice. 

Therefore, we must avoid a future for AI that resembles the plot of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari, in which humanity becomes replaced by an artificial superintelligence. The advent of AI should benefit the entire planet rather than a small group of technological supermen who hold a monopoly or a corporate oligarchy—a risk that scholars have long warned against—and some IT companies have set up cooperative associations to jointly develop AI.

However, in such associations or alliances the objectives of participants reflect their corporate interests. Also, since AI mostly concerns IT researchers, many scholars from the social sciences have been left out of the ongoing debate about the future of AI, which is doubtlessly detrimental to the human pursuit of equality and justice. 

When trying to create benign AI, the central focus should be on improving the wellbeing of all of humanity. A human-centered approach to AI aims to utilize the productive forces of society to offer new solutions to persistent social problems, such as regional poverty, disease, environmental pollution and traffic jams.

In addition, benign AI should address the imbalance of public resources. According to some observers, if they are dealt with inappropriately, public resources will become overly aggregated into the hands of corporate oligarchs, which would ultimately harm the common people. If that were to happen, AI could not be called benign. 

To direct the development of benign AI in China, one should note the following four points from political, economic, cultural and education perspectives . First, specialized coordinating bodies or agencies of AI should be established. Professional organizations and systematic planning are important guarantees that prevent AI from doing evil. To put its newly released AI blueprint into action, China still needs a specialized agency that is able to coordinate AI development and incorporate it into government decision-making, which is key to the quality and efficiency of AI development.

It is also advisable to formulate incentive policies. The policies could include greater investment in R&D, tax preferences, and recruitment of high-level professionals from abroad. 

In addition, traditional Chinese culture needs to adjust itself to AI elements. Many Western scholars hold a pessimistic attitude toward AI, and they even perceive the subversive fallout from AI as another omen of the end of the world. This is largely due to the ingrained impact the Christian cultural narrative has had on the Western tradition.

However, there is no such end-of-the-world prophesy in traditional Chinese culture. Compared with Western observers, most Chinese researchers maintain a cautious optimism about the future of AI. They argue that humans will always manage to seek a way to coexist with machines in a harmonious manner. And the moderate life outlook innate within Chinese people encourages them to take a relatively restrained view about employing AI techniques, which could in some sense avert risks brought by the abuse of AI. 

Last, a reservoir of talent and disciplinary resources is important for paving AI’s future path. What benign AI requires are not only technicians but also thinkers. But the fact that there is still a gap between the traditional Chinese talent cultivation system and the innovative talent system that the AI era demands necessitates the reform in Chinese education. Moreover, research on law and public management concerning AI should be strengthened to counter the maelstrom of huge risks that the expedited development of AI brings about. As problems related to AI, such as individual privacy, human dignity and intelligence ethics arise, the perspectives of social sciences , such as law and management are crucial.


Gao Qiqi and Li Yang are from the Political Science Institute at East China University of Political Science and Law.

Editor: Yu Hui

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