Zhang Yiming: AI is at the Early Stages from Laboratory to Large-Scale Commercialization

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On December 1, at the A.IDEAS Forum, Toutiao announced the establishment of the Bytedance Strategic Technology Committee. Its first members included professor John E. Hopcroft, a Turing Award winner, Gao Wen, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, as well as Zhang Ba, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Toutiao Institute also reached a strategic agreement with the Co-innovation Center for Innovation Governance at Tsinghua University, so as to help the national innovation system develop, and to explore the challenges and effects of new technologies such as artificial intelligence on social economy and innovation management.

Zhang Yiming, founder and CEO of Toutiao, said the committee would bring together the world’s top AI experts to share their wisdom, expand their horizons, promote the research and application of artificial intelligence and regulate its development to ensure human-oriented function.

“When I founded Toutiao five years ago, I hoped it would strengthen the connection between people and information in the information age,” Zhang said, “The mark of civilization is the circulation of information, and Toutiao is the first company to apply artificial intelligence to large-scale information distribution. AI brings opportunities and challenges to the world. Toutiao is a responsible high-tech company, aiming to make AI better serve the creation and communication of information.”

To achieve his vision, Zhang said he must tackle three problems: the first is the use of scenarios, which is essentially a market problem; the second is the question of how much artificial intelligence can improve the signal-to-noise ratio of information spread; and the third is a question of rules. What are the legal and ethical boundaries of artificial intelligence in connecting people and information?

Zhang said AI is in the early stages of moving from the lab to large-scale commercialization, and many people are starting to worry about the economic, legal, security and ethical problems AI may cause. “From the earliest stage, we should research the effects AI has on society. I think that’s what responsible artificial intelligence technology companies should do so,” he said.

The following is the full text of his speech:

Thanks Ma Li, general director, for your speech. Distinguished guests, good morning. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Beijing.

I would like to welcome all the guests to the Global Festival for A.IDEAS. I would like to thank the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Public Administration Institute, Tsinghua University, UNICRI Artificial Intelligence and Machine Center for your support.

Over the past 20 years, artificial intelligence has gone from theoretical papers to the real world. When I founded Toutiao five years ago, I hoped it could strengthen the connection between people and information in the information age. I think the mark of civilization is the circulation of information, and Toutiao is first company that applies artificial intelligence technology to the large-scale distribution of information. Our vision is to be the platform that “understands users most, connects people with information, and promotes creativity and communication.” When we talk about information, we are not just talking about stock market information, weather forecasts and traffic conditions. Information is the encoding of all human civilization. It is the sum of human history and all thinking and expression both today and in the future. Information is the most important part of human civilization.

To achieve our vision, three problems must be tackled: the first is the use of scenarios, which is essentially a market problem. The second is the question of how much artificial intelligence can improve the signal-to-noise ratio of information spreading. The third is a question of rules. What is are the legal and ethical boundaries of artificial intelligence when connecting people and information?

This is why the forum is themed artificial intelligence and human civilization. For Toutiao, we hope artificial intelligence can better serve the creation and communication of information, so as to promote exchange across all human civilization. We hope Toutiao can become a more responsible high-tech company. For humans, we hope that when the world embraces the great opportunity of artificial intelligence, we also confront the uncertainties and risks it may bring to mankind.

I have always thought AI engineering, aerospace engineering, and genetic engineering were the three leaps forward for human development. These three major projects are also the major challenges to human ethics and survival.

At the moment, AI is in the early stage of departing the laboratory for mass commercialization, and many people are beginning to worry about the economic, legal, security and ethical problems it may bring.

For example, AI could lead to mass unemployment. It could lead to unbalanced economic development. It could lead to a widening gap between the rich and poor. Many cities may have to modify existing traffic laws. Education, finance and other traditional industries could be completely subverted.

Fortunately, a lot of risk just has already appeared at the surface. From the earliest stages, we should conduct technology research and development and research the effects on society at the same time. At least, I think that’s what a responsible artificial intelligence technology company should do.

In the era of the PC Internet, Chinese Internet companies were learners and followers of global Internet giants. But in the era of artificial intelligence, we have seen many Chinese technology companies begin to become global leaders at the application level, close to or even at the world’s leading level. But we are also committed to working with all sectors of the world to think positively about the opportunities and risks that new technologies bring to the world and the well-being of our global users.

We hope that our technology will ultimately benefit global users. As for achieving this goal, it is not something one company alone can achieve, but a concerted effort made by people from different sectors of the world.

In order to make Toutiao’s artificial intelligence technology benefit mankind, we need to bring together the world’s top AI experts to share their wisdom, expand their horizons, promote research and application of artificial intelligence and to regulate its development, so as to be sure artificial intelligence serves humans.

Today, I hope to use this convention to announce two things:

First, the establishment of Bytedance Strategic Technology Committee. I am honored to invite three scientists as the first batch of committee members. These are John E. Hopcroft, a Turing Award winner, Gao Wen, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Engineering and deputy director of the National Natural Science Fund Committee, as well as Zhang Ba, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Science.

Secondly, Toutiao Institute has reached a strategic cooperation with Co-innovation Center for Innovation Governance, Tsinghua University, so as to help the national innovation system construction and to explore the challenges and effects brought by new technologies such as artificial intelligence on social economy and innovation management.

Leaders and scholars, the discussion of AI boundaries is the discussion of human civilization. With regards to the legal and ethical boundaries of artificial intelligence, we can explore and debate, but I think artificial intelligence enterprises should always adhere to one principle. We must always have a sense of responsibility for the man’s future and goodwill.

Thank you again for your participation. Thank you.

This article originally appeared in Jiemian and was translated by Pandaily.

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