SHANGHAI, July 11 — Due to COVID-19, the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) 2020 in Shanghai this week adopted a hybrid model where offline exhibitions and online displays took place simultaneously to showcase the latest artificial intelligence (AI) applications and frontier development. More than 500 AI experts and executives, including Nobel laureates and Turing Award winners, attended this year’s WAIC held from Thursday to Saturday with the theme of “Intelligent Connectivity, Indivisible Community.” AI has already demonstrated its potential to transform societies, economies and industries, but this is just the beginning, according to experts at the conference. WAIC plays a critical role in bringing people together to learn from one another and identify ways of collaborating to achieve more.
AI TECHNOLOGIES FIGHT EPIDEMIC
In recent years, AI has begun to play a significant role in many sectors. Prompted by the need to contain COVID-19, people around the world are looking toward AI-based techniques to aid the anti-pandemic fight. Companies such as Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, SenseTime and iFlytek have been among the first to join the fight. Data modeling, crowd screening, and tracing contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases have been widely used to help control the spread of the coronavirus. SenseTime, an AI-technology firm with its China headquarters and Global R&D headquarters in Shanghai that specializes in computer vision and deep learning, participated in this year’s event. During the outbreak of COVID-19, SenseTime collaborated with several hospitals and medical institutions across China to assist COVID-19 diagnoses. The company upgraded its diagnosis application, which dramatically improved the effectiveness, accuracy, and speed of the current analysis of CT scans with the help of AI algorithms. Screening large crowds is another area where AI shows its potential, particularly in public spaces such as the metro. AI firm Megvii, another exhibitor at WAIC, launched a remote temperature measurement system in subway stations in Beijing to help screen out passengers with a high fever. Compared with manual detection, the system can examine up to 300 people in one minute without disrupting passenger flows.
Shen Xiangyang, a professor from Tsinghua University, said during the conference that AI technology could play a significant role in remote diagnoses, vaccine development, virus analysis and global coordination. With the widespread application of AI products and technologies in the battle against the epidemic, Li Yong, director general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, said that the technological innovation of AI should go beyond national boundaries to avoid widening the technological gap between developed and developing countries. AI is also changing the way of scientific research and pharmaceutical manufacture in the healthcare sector. “Health systems face incredible challenges due to aging populations, increased patient expectations, and the growing prevalence of chronic conditions. COVID-19 has only intensified those challenges,” said Pascal Soriot, executive director and CEO of AstraZeneca. “If AI is to play its full part in overcoming them, I believe we need to embrace the opportunity, collaborate, and pursue it together.”
NEW ENGINE FOR ECONOMIC RECOVERY
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to rising demand for online services, which at the same time created many new scenarios for AI applications. Many experts attending the WAIC saw AI as a new engine to stimulate growth in the post-coronavirus era.
Zhu Min, chairman of the National Institute of Financial Research at Tsinghua University, was upbeat about the prospects of the AI industry. “Our lives underwent fundamental changes when we moved from offline to online activities, making teleworking, online entertainment, shopping, and conferencing part of our daily lives. This provides a broad space for AI development in the future.” China has seen a quickly evolving AI ecosystem in recent years. Many Chinese cities have stepped up efforts in building AI clusters. Shanghai built the AIsland of the Zhangjiang Science City in the Pudong New Area, an AI cluster for both major AI players and start-ups. Covering an area of 66,000 square meters, the AIsland has attracted about 90 companies, including Microsoft and IBM. Besides a rapidly expanding AI market, AI companies were also buoyed by a friendly policy environment. In this year’s government work report, China called for support on the construction of new types of infrastructure, which is widely regarded as a positive policy signal for cutting-edge technologies such as 5G, AI, and the Internet of Things.
New infrastructure will hopefully start the trend of AI in all aspects of life in China, said Li Yanhong, CEO of Baidu, at the opening ceremony of the WAIC. The continuous efforts in promoting the AI industry and the construction of new types of infrastructure will boost economic activities following the pandemic, experts said. Kai-Fu Lee, chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures, was confident of the potential of the collaboration between AI and traditional industries, noting that more traditional industries ranging from manufacturing, medical care to the education sector will focus on improving efficiency in the next decade. Right before the WAIC 2020, the Shanghai AI Tower was unveiled in the city’s Xuhui District, marking another milestone of international AI cooperation. Twenty leading global AI companies including Microsoft, Huawei, and Alibaba have clustered in the twin buildings on the waterfront along the Huangpu River. Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma, who is also co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, underlined cross-border collaboration and the unity of mankind during a virtual speech at the opening ceremony of the conference. “We should take responsibility instead of being worried because the virus does not need a passport or sees no national borders. Technology should also have no borders,” said Ma. “We have no other choice, so the sooner we start to cooperate, unify, and embrace each other, the sooner we will win,” he added.