AI for Good

Despite the hype around Artificial Intelligence (AI), many early stage venture investors continue focusing on this. SoftBank is second to none. SoftBank reaped record ¥5 Trillion net profit for the year ended March 31, 2021. This was the highest of any Japanese company in history. SoftBank Vision Fund saw a huge investment gain on Coupang in the fourth quarter. This return creates a great momentum for the Vision Fund going forward. SoftBank founder, Masayoshi Son once said that “AI will completely change the way humans live within 30 years.” SoftBank has bulked up to $80 billion to fund Mr. Son’s AI vision.

China is on the frontier of AI. China makes huge investments in AI. China leads the way in AI-related patents and publications. Speech and image recognition applications are already widely used as China has a vibrant market for them. China is fast in adopting such products and services in day-to-day life. China is a huge market indeed. A large usage case in China provides advantages in big data and machine learning. Chinese government also has strong support for AI. AI is a field that is heavily backed by the Chinese government to maintain its competitive advantage. It gives a clear signal to private investors that AI is worth investing in. China already has 14 AI unicorns that are valued at $1 billion or more. China is a true leader of AI venture investment.

However, China’s AI superpower is deepening concern posed by cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns and privacy infringement. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and the National Security Commission on AI (NSCAI) recently published the report and warned that the U.S. is drastically underprepared for the age of AI and there are also serious military implications for that. Having said, China’s offshore investments in AI are attracting mounting scrutiny. As the report denoted, AI will be used in the pursuit of power. Therefore, China’s ambition to surpass the U.S. as the world number one AI leader within a decade is a real threat to all Americans and maybe to the world. 

Successful deployment of AI to strengthen governance is ironically only possible with China’s unique socio-political context. Strong state power has made the government exploit its exclusive data advantage and enhance state control over people through AI. AI-backed digital surveillance is a good example. Though, surveillance programs are probably only one aspect of the use of AI in China. Chinese government is counting on a booming AI industry. It makes this single party authoritarian regime using AI in pursuit of superpower legitimate. Chinese State Council’s New Generation AI Development Plan spells out China’s ambitious goal aiming to reach the AI industry worth more than 1,000 billion yuan by 2030. 

Certainly, there is a good use case of AI, too. AI has helped thousands of families in China to locate their lost children to be found thanks to very powerful and also efficient facial recognition technology that can process 100,000 cases in a second. Last year, China also mobilized its mass surveillance tools from drones to CCTV and also AI to monitor the spread of the coronavirus. AI will create so much wealth. AI will also create decent jobs for young and talented researchers and engineers.

Digital surveillance is now a part of life. The Internet is built upon the virtue of sharing. When you’re online, you have nothing to hide. Conflict between privacy and security is nothing new. However, it has become more complex and difficult with broad use of AI. What if there is somebody who knows you better than you know yourself. Therefore, what we should be more concerned about is our vulnerable privacy, that is continuously analyzed, updated and expanded for the purpose that we don’t recognize. Digital surveillance has been justified to fight COVID-19. Technology can play an important role during a pandemic indeed. However, it does not give authoritarian governments carte blanche for digital surveillance, nor a permanent measure for them to become a surveillance state. AI often tempts people in power to abandon moral responsibility. 

WhatsApp has recently filed a lawsuit in India against the government that requires social media companies to identify the first originator of information if the authorities demand it. The government could argue with the manipulation of information on social media or harmful misinformation during a public health crisis. Or perhaps, they can’t just stand the criticism of the government’s response to the crisis. WhatsApp has 2 billion active users worldwide and India has the most WhatsApp users counting 390 million. If anyone wants to trace chats that are encrypted end-to-end, it simply violates human right to privacy, not to mention the new privacy rules of WhatsApp. WhatsApp’s statement showed that tracing chats is like keeping a fingerprint of every single message over the Internet. Though, can anyone get this done without the power of AI? For WhatsApp and its parent company, Facebook, user data is the bread and butter. Funny enough Facebook and Apple are fighting over your privacy as Apple gives users the ability to opt out of being followed around the internet with its recent iOS update.

AI is getting better and better. AI can do good. AI will help humanity, not harm it. Many leading tech companies have dedicated resources to build AI for good and support developers who do the same. AI could generate a lot of disinformation and make a broader reach to audience with fake news. Garbage in, garbage out? Algorithms are only as good as the input. 2.5 quintillion bytes is how much data people create every day on the planet. There are 18 zeros in a quintillion. The amount of content and data generated daily is too much for humans to effectively monitor, digest and absorb. AI offers a solution for that. AI should be used to battle negative consequences. Therefore, some argued that all value produced by AI has to be a public property. We all know that it is wishful thinking, though, as people with higher power already know what AI tastes like. As a rule of thumb, there is no implicit good or bad to AI. At the end of day, AI is just a tool. Who drives it really matters.