Kai-Fu Lee Gives AI a B-Minus Grade in the Covid-19 Fight

How high is the fruit? In the next pandemic, will we be able to very quickly develop a vaccine because of AI? Will it take 10 years until we’re there?

Well I’m going to be an optimist and say yes, but I really don’t have the solid grounding to prove that.

Let’s talk about the industries that are going to change. The coronavirus is going to turn our economy upside-down. It’s changing all kinds of industries. It’s massively changing my industry, media. It’s changing online education in crazy ways. It’s changing telemedicine in fascinating ways. What are the industries that you think will change and will be most affected by artificial intelligence?

Clearly health care is one. AI has so much to offer in terms of personalized, targeted diagnosis, more accurate due to genome sequencing, new technologies like Crispr coming out, potentially combined with AI; also, there are a lot of inefficiencies in health care. Insurance was not designed with all the health care data. So I think all of these will compound and make health care plus AI the biggest potential. There is one issue with health care, which is whether the data can become accessible. In countries where there are strong protections, such as HIPAA, even with anonymized data, it may be hard to aggregate the data for training AI. And AI really runs on data.

Another is education, that you talked about. People are changing their habits about going to school. A billion kids across the world are learning online. And suddenly we see all these ways of using online AI technologies, whether it’s AI teachers, AI to help you fix your pronunciation, AI to figure out what areas you’re having trouble, in math or English, that can all be added to make the human-to-human interaction more about learning the methods, helping to motivate learning, individualize, but using AI for the routine part of education.

Lastly, I think work as a general category is shifting online. We’re conducting all of our meetings, we’re making investments potentially without ever meeting the entrepreneur. People are making deals online. This change of habit, of being willing to have meetings and make decisions, and helping to change the work process into a digitized process, this digitalization turns everything into data. Once you have data, you have AI potentially coming in to improve the margins, improve the efficiency. A huge potential challenge is you have AI potentially coming in to say, well, everything’s digitized, why don’t we use AI to do this workload instead of people? So that will accelerate automation and potentially cause a faster churn in terms of AI replacing people.

This is fascinating. Right now you and I are talking across screens. You’re on the other side of the world, I’m in an attic in upstate New York. We should be in Aspen talking to each other, but here we are. So the fact that this conversation is all digital, and all the other work conversations I’ve had today and will have tomorrow are all digital, you think will lead to some kind of unknown advance in AI that will make human work disappear more quickly?

Yes. To give you an example, in the pre-pandemic world there are lots of companies that require people-to-people interaction. So people go to work, they have meetings, people take notes, they write on paper, they have records, and they call each other. But now that all the work is essentially operated and run online, everything from meetings to decisions to workflow becomes digital. And once it’s digital, the company’s management will see, oh, there’s that part of expense report decision-making that could be done by AI. There’s that part of customer service, we could simply have an AI agent rather than a human agent. Oh, the sales process, all this telesales could be done by AI with either automated speech generation or even synthesis of digital humans. So pieces of corporations and their workflow will become automated faster because it’s already online and digital.


Leave a Reply