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UCLA conference highlights role of artificial intelligence in US-China relations

Kai-Fu Lee, an expert in the artificial intelligence field, spoke about the need for an international exchange of ideas in AI technology at a virtual UCLA conference. (Madelynn Mackenzie/Daily Bruin)

By Victoria Li and Madelynn Mackenzie

April 14, 2021 4:53 p.m.

Artificial intelligence expert Kai-Fu Lee emphasized the importance of an international exchange of ideas in AI technology at a presentation Monday as part of a weeklong virtual UCLA conference.

The conference, hosted by the UCLA Anderson School of Management, focused on technology-driven innovations and aimed to foster collaboration between the U.S. and greater China region.

AI is powerful because it is individualized and, unlike humans, can learn how to optimize processes with high accuracy based on large amounts of data, said Lee, who is the co-chair of the Artificial Intelligence Council for the World Economic Forum Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“If data is the new oil, then China’s the new Saudi Arabia,” Lee said.

There are two different forms of AI: a general AI that is equivalent or superior to human intelligence and a narrow AI that is an engine trained with data for deep learning and applicable to a single function, he added.

[Related: Campus Queries: What does artificial intelligence do and how does it work?]

“We are nowhere near building general AI because there are many aspects of human creativity and compassion that we don’t know how to do with AI,” Lee said.

On the other hand, narrow AI is rapidly becoming more and more mainstream, Lee said.

Narrow AI is similar to a huge Excel spreadsheet – all the data is entered and labeled and then the AI engine can compute and predict an outcome, Lee said.

Just like electricity or the internet, narrow AI is a general-purpose technology applicable to a multitude of sectors including education, health care, financial services and manufacturing, he said. It can save workers valuable time and money by automating repetitive tasks.

[Related: UCLA researchers develop artificial intelligence to analyze cells without killing them]

AI technology has many benefits for productivity and economic growth, but it may also displace up to 30% of jobs by 2030, according to a McKinsey report.

“We don’t know what jobs AI will create, but we do know what jobs they will eliminate,” Lee said.

An increasing number of highly repetitive jobs such as professional drivers, waiters and chefs will be replaced by AI, Lee said. However, the main challenge is not about how many jobs will be lost but rather what new jobs people can do after they are displaced and who will provide their training, he added.

The government should help reallocate resources and set new priorities for vocational education to make sure people can adapt to an increasingly AI-based economy, Lee said. Amazon has already started programs to retrain their employees for jobs that are not easily replaceable by AI.

Wilbur Woo, a Chinese American businessman and UCLA alumnus, recognized that technology was something important and transformative, said Michael Woo, Wilbur Woo’s son who spoke at the conference.

In 2001, Wilbur Woo established the Wilbur K. Woo Greater China Business Conference, said Lucy Allard Nelson, executive director of the Center for Global Management at UCLA. His goal was to promote understanding between the greater China region and the U.S. and identify shared goals, Allard Nelson said.

Wilbur Woo also believed in the importance of creating dialogue, said Michael Woo. It is a timely belief given the strained state of U.S.-China relations and racism against Asian Americans, he added.

U.S. entrepreneurship and business models have greatly influenced Chinese entrepreneurs in the past, yet as China now grows as an AI superpower, U.S. entrepreneurs continue to underestimate the potential of Chinese entrepreneurship, Lee said.

Despite the challenging global political environment, it is important to hold these conferences and build bridges between China and the U.S. – two powerful countries with complementary strengths, Lee said.

“China is a country with a phenomenal environment for entrepreneurship and great ideas,” Lee said. “Learning from each other is something we all need to do more often.”

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Victoria Li | Science and Health editor
Li is the 2021-2022 science and health editor. She was previously a contributor for the science and health beat. She is also a third-year human biology and society student at UCLA who enjoys writing about research and public health.
Li is the 2021-2022 science and health editor. She was previously a contributor for the science and health beat. She is also a third-year human biology and society student at UCLA who enjoys writing about research and public health.
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