Chinese AI companies stress social responsibility

  • AI
  • Wednesday, 15 Jan 2020

An UBTech Robotics Inc Walker robot pouring a bottle of soda during CES 2020 in United States, on Jan 8. — Bloomberg

Experts from China’s artificial intelligence companies underscored how the industry is devoted to alleviating social problems globally, as AI took centre stage recently at the world’s largest tech expo.

"Today we are applying AI technology to fields such as education and health, which carry social significance. And we’re using it to solve some supply chain problems, ” Duan Dawei, senior vice-president and CFO of China’s top voice-recognition company, iFlytek, said in an interview on Jan 8 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Global tech companies were showing their best at the 2020 International Consumer Electronics Show, which concluded on Jan 10.

"I believe our practice of helping low-income regions with scarce resources to develop has global significance, ” he said during an introduction of the company’s latest products, which included a real-time translator with support for 60 languages, a smart education companion and a language learning portal to teach Chinese to students of all levels.

Although it was a 2019 CES Innovation Award honoree, the company was not listed among companies on the showroom floor at this year’s expo. Its exhibition was held in another location.

Three months ago, iFlytek was placed on a trade blacklist by the United States over issues related to the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, a move Duan said could affect US companies that were once part of the company’s supply chain.

"Our key focus is not on hardware – we purchase that from other companies, ” he said. "The foundation of our company is self-developed technology by Chinese scientists. Now, as we are adjusting to a supply chain with no US companies, I feel that the US companies will bear more of the impact, ” Duan said.

Chinese people have built an environment that is friendly and encouraging for the application of AI, bringing the technology closer to people’s everyday lives, he said, noting that China is the largest market for the application of the technology. Its economy has developed to the extent that innovation is understood and welcomed by the people, and AI products are popular with families and children.

He said companies like iFlytek have begun to alleviate resource scarcity through AI by introducing educational and health products to less-affluent communities.

"With AI technology, we can connect people in suburban areas or villages with high-quality education and health resources that are normally accessible only in metropolitan areas, ” he said. The company’s Las Vegas exhibition focused on how it is helping disadvantaged communities.

Some problems iFlytek has been solving are global, and Duan believes technologies from China are having a worldwide impact.

For example, he said,"In China, we use AI technology to help people with hearing and vision disorders.” The company was able to develop technologies that translate audio to text and vice versa – technology that is "applicable for all humankind”.

"I hope China and the US can keep the doors open for communications and co-operation in technology development and application that is meaningful for both countries and the world, ” Duan said, noting that in recent years, both China and the United States have developed strategies that support advancement in AI technology.

In February last year, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order that laid out plans for "maintaining US leadership in AI”, and associated the development of AI with the country’s national security. The US recently imposed new restrictions on exports of certain AI software.

Reuters reported that US authorities were considering submitting rules to international bodies in an attempt to create a level playing field in response to China, which has emphasised development of the AI industry for years. It introduced the idea of "new digital infrastructure” that includes AI, a move Duan praised as significant.

"Actually, all of the world’s major economies have AI-centred national strategies supporting the industry, ” said Tan Huan, co-chief technology officer of UBTECH, a Shenzhen-based company focused on intelligent humanoid robots.

"We all believe that AI is the future, ” said Tan, who displayed an educational toy the company brought to this year’s Las Vegas expo. "By investing in AI education, we are preparing for the future.”

Tan said technology companies bear social responsibility.

"We believe our investment should not be based purely on commercial benefits, ” Tan said. "We see it as a responsibility and hope to do something for the next generation.”

He believes that only products designed with society and the future of humankind in mind will be sustainable in the long run.

UBTECH has been investing heavily in companion and service robots for the healthcare industry. For Tan, AI is the answer to concerns about ageing populations in many countries.

Pursuing a similar vision, iFlytek has been leading the development of real-time translators, which Duan said facilitates seamless communications among all people.

"We are different in race, culture, social institutions, language and skin colour, but we share a lot of similarities in our wish to develop, ” he said.

"That’s why we still decided to bring a showcase to CES. We hope to advance cooperation with foreign partners and reduce the barriers that are hindering it.” – China Daily (China)/ANN

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