Dialogues In Digital Transcript
“Business Practices are extremely different in China than in the West.” – Prof. Dr. Michael Sung
Javaid Iqbal: How the US-centric companies (Amazon, Microsoft, etc.) compare with Chinese companies (Alibaba, JD.com, etc.). What are the few tenants that are different in the approaches?
Prof. Michael Sung: “There isn’t an AI war, because if there was one – China has already won.” – Prof. Michael Sung.
The US is considerably more advanced when it comes to AI research as opposed to China. However, when China invests the central government puts in Billions of dollars over 5 years. That is a significant multiple of what and for how long the rest of the world invests. Which is one reason China has gone from zero to hero in nearly half a decade and is now becoming unstoppable. It is China’s policy to be world level or on-par with Germany and Japan by 2025 in AI and Robotics. China’s regulations and policies around data accessibility have favored companies to massively embed and deploy AI systems across the industries. For E.g. ImageNet (US-based project), a large visual database designed for use in visual object recognition software research, has around 14 million faces that are used as a training dataset versus Sense Time (Hong Kong-based AI Unicorn) has got more than 100 million faces that favors deep learning algorithms. Although the US has shown dominance in fundamental AI research, grooming exceptional talent, and establishing a World-class AI ecosystem, here is why China is ahead; the central planning for AI-related projects is done in tandem with the government, a long term strategic vision typically spans across 5/10/20 years with phase-wise goals and objectives, there is a massive investment which is 10 times of that of the US, China is the largest digitized market, giant companies are involved in AI skills training, AI programs are being taught at bachelors and master’s level across the universities, and lastly, the existence of favorable policies to access data.
“If there was an AI war, China has already won.” – Prof. Michael Sung.
Javaid Iqbal: In a zero-sum game, how should the US and China work with two different mindsets, one more inclusive while the other one being more exclusive?
Prof. Michael Sung: “Collaboration is better than non-collaboration.” – Prof. Michael Sung.
If both sides collaborate then they will get out of jail together (referring to the Prisoner’s Dilemma). But if one side rats on the other, the other side has to find another way out of it. And if both sides start ratting on each other, they are both doomed. In the competitive game theory, it always turns out that two completely rational individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so. There lies the fundamental problem. The solution is to always collaborate with the other person. The problem with the game theory is bluffing. But now we have blockchain and smart contracts you know what other person is going to do and you optimize and create complex scenarios as a countermeasure – like you do not screw me or I will screw you. Collaboration can create win-win scenarios for both parties. E.g. right now, if you say, “Do not give anything to China to help them out” because they are just catching up. They will double down their resources knowing that they cannot count on the counterparty for critical technologies. I would say that it is a short-term aim for China, but in the long term, China is going to win because of the market, resources, and the work that is already in progress. They will be able to do that. We need to create a collaborative framework. We need to evolve as a society in ways of thinking. It is always colonialism and protectionism. My notion is that this is not like before, there is a concept in economic theory called comparative advantage. There are two nations, one is good at fabrics and one is good at tech. It does not make sense for both companies to do both.
Javaid Iqbal: What do countries and companies in general/specific terms need to start looking towards in terms of policy, readiness, investments, partnerships?
Prof. Michael Sung: Technology I think is just a tool. It can be used for good or bad. Humans in our society have always been about who has access to information. There is an asymmetric advantage of having information, therefore, you see the Gini coefficient. People who have access to data, talent, technology will win but this is unstable. We have to empower the have-nots with financial inclusion, tools for AI so that they can take advantage of it. If you look at the world economy, everything below 10% is in South East Asia, South Africa, and parts of the Middle East. These are not evolving worlds. The future of humanity is under development in these areas, but they have a huge opportunity to have these areas leapfrog because of self-formed penetration. You can immediately give these people access to credit by introducing digital banking and smartphone apps. Empower them with commoditizing AI technology and Big data solutions so they can go and start making an income out of it.
Javaid Iqbal: What about countries that are rich with human capital such as Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh? Pakistan itself out of its 220 million population has 135 million millennials. What do they all need to do to start getting ready for this revolution?
Prof. Michael Sung: Well, certainly I think that the incumbent governments need to upgrade their policies because there is no free lunch. Create opportunities to enable them to do so by providing comfort, regulations, a safe and stable environment, and frameworks of protection. I have advised the minister-level government on ecosystem building, how to create a cross border technical environment, specifically on Fintech. Through these financial technologies, you can get a lot of investments. In the case of Blockchain and FinTech in Singapore, Switzerland, and the US – different frameworks and practices have been set. We take the experts in these fields (people with emerging technologies) plus the legal experts (those who make the frameworks that exist) plus all the stakeholders. We take the best from this and give it to developing countries’ governments so they can further advance through it.
Javaid Iqbal: Have you found any of these developing countries who have taken a stride saying, “you know what, give us this template and see till it yields results”?
Prof. Michael Sung: Recently, I visited Pakistan. As a western educated person with media exposure in this area, you have a certain ocean of know-how about Pakistan. On the ground, what I have seen is 220 million people, 6th most populous nation in the world with a very intrigued and young workforce. The government is very incurred and open to international opponents. I see an underground dynamic. I see Pakistan as the next China in a few years because it is just opening up – it knows what to do, have a lot of expertise and unbound opportunities. I think if we can give the leadership the right tools and equip them with best practices of the international world standards, they can create a system for this untapped or undeveloped market that can interface more harmoniously with the international ecosystem and both sides can benefit from it.
Javaid Iqbal: Generation Alpha, which is the generation, born between 2010 and 2025. It is the first generation born into AI. How do you think is this human-machine journey going to evolve?
Prof. Michael Sung: I think Artificial Intelligence’s development path is in its embryonic stages. The first thing that AI has been employed to do is advertising AI weapons (how they can kill someone effectively). If you think AI is going to get more intelligent and sophisticated, this will involve AI to take moral and ethical decisions. Think about raising a kid in this environment. Where you are just trying to reduce violence on people or hypnotize people to do better. I think we are on that track where AI has started to go into directions where it has long term consequences. We have Elon Musk and other celebrity people who are speaking about the potential problems with AI and how do we fix them? AI has been developed with some laws of robotics. In those laws of robotics, there are humanistic systems. And we need to think about how to develop AI with different frameworks that include human values so that AI can develop in successful ways to coexist with humanity. You have seen the human against machine scenarios in sci-fi movies, where eventually, robots are going to get more and more sophisticated. The only way to stop that is if the people are more cooperative and there is a synergy with the robots. AI is a massively powerful thing for humanity because everybody has the opportunity to pursue it in the most effective manner possible – for their dreams and aspirations, their pursuit of love, their pursuit of truth, whatever it may be.
Javaid Iqbal: Does this generation get to choose their lives going forward or is there someone who is programming with their own biases of today choose it for them?
Prof. Michael Sung: Currently, right now, there is no framework in place to prevent companies from taking advantage of them. Just look at the phenomena of Fortnite, a game that has been explicitly designed with gamification to psychologically engage them to play and keep them online. For now, it is a completely valid business. However, at what point it becomes manipulative that can do so much societal damage is still questionable. But I have hope, that our society is going to wake up to these issues. When we become more of a conscious community and start to understand that all humanity is equal and that have their rights. Then you start to realize the principles. We have seen it with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook and how people’s private data was being exploited. How do I get people’s data? How do I leverage data to maximize sales? That kind of mindset is falling away to more of a social responsibility related framework where you are not allowed to give data. We will hopefully evolve towards a state where more collaborative and harmonious business models will appear.
Javaid Iqbal: With the exponential rate at which AI is progressing, does it sound scary to you?
Prof. Michael Sung: I think since the beginning of Humanity the age-old concept of good-evil still exists. Some people want to use AI for the good of Humanity, helping society and then others do exist as well. Certainly, the vision of Elon Musk is a future scenario that I do not know how likely it is, but it is certainly a scenario to be concerned about. The game theory tells us that if we all collaborate, we can all get to a better place. I think with technologies like blockchain we have frameworks that can create trust in areas where there was no trust before. So, I am personally very positive about the future and am trying to bridge the gap between the US and the East. In general, I am trying to be an intersection, connecting business, technology, and governments to people, and creating frameworks for Omni-business.
Javaid Iqbal: Getting ready for the future, what would be your advice for students? How would you ready yourself with regardless of the career path you choose or the subjects you want to pursue and so forth?
Prof. Michael Sung: There are 3 pieces of advice that I would like to give to students that are trying to make it:
- Be as much tech-savvy as possible which will allow you to make things happen. Leverage the know-how of technology to solve bigger problems in your domain.
- Have an entrepreneurial mindset that will allow you to demystify the process of thinking. Leverage it to see how trends work in the market, what are the pain points, figure out what people need, get the resources, and take advantage of the opportunity.
- Find your Mount Everest. Know in which direction you are heading in, what you are passionate about, what drives you. Do not follow the hill-climbing strategy, which is jumping on to the next big thing.
These 3 skillsets combined will allow you to march into any direction and take advantage of any situation.
Javaid Iqbal: Give us your perspective on the concept of failure?
Prof. Michael Sung: Failure is the fundamental way people learn. I teach this notion of randomness which is something that people tend to minimize in their life. People want to follow a routine; people want stability and they feel randomness is a negative force. I teach my students exactly the opposite. I teach them to embrace randomness. Life is about adapting to unexpected change, so therefore, you cannot mitigate randomness from your life. In a more philosophical sense, randomness means opportunity. It means latching onto things that people normally would not. There is a balance between order and disorder, randomness, and structure, and you need both to be adaptive to the environment. I believe the best way to frame your life is to have a certain percentage of your life to be structured and certain unstructured. A good example of it is Google’s 20 percent time. One day out of the five, the engineers at Google can do whatever they want to whilst the other four days they do the structured stuff making money for the business. This has led Google to be the innovation leader it is today and has allowed it to create completely different products apart from its core search engine. The bottom line is you cannot plan for change because change is happening so rapidly that you have to learn to adapt it. You have heard the concept of ‘Golden Ratio’. My interpretation of the Golden Ratio is the balance of structure and randomness. Order and disorder. The structure provides that ability to have a platform to do something meaningful, while disorder represents opportunity and novelty that gives you newer things that you can incorporate in your life that might be meaningful. Being 100% structured or 100% unstructured does not work together. You need to have harmony between the two.
Javaid Iqbal: What are your views on the future of work, how do you see it evolving?
Prof. Michael Sung: Let’s go back to the discussion of how AI and Humanity will exist together? My notion is that Humanity can wholly leverage AI with things like automation through which Humans can avoid repetitious growth. If you look at all the industrializations, industrialization 1.0 marked by steam engines, humans, and animal power got replaced. Computerization later in the ’80s allowed Humans to free up from a lot of repetitive calculations and then came Internetization that connected all of us. And now in the 4th Industrial Revolution, we are talking about automation that is going to automate 60% of the tasks in the years to come across the board. Likewise, this world of AI is powerfully empowering. It will free people from doing mediocre stuff. Although jobs will be lost, they will free Humanity to do important things. Like I mentioned before, the pursuit and creation of beauty, of truth, and love. I would argue that AI is going to empower people to do what they care about the most, what they are most passionate about.
When I think about the future of work, I am very intrigued by the notion of automating innovation. That seems to me like a fool’s errand, it is so abstract that how do you even automate innovation? I, from a venture builder’s point of view, what I do is, I find technologists who know how to use amazing technology, people who know how to automate things and manage it, and people with domain expertise, and then what I do is, I bring them together in a framework where everyone is incentivized and can create something sustainable. Now, I have been thinking about how I can do all this by APIs and building smart contracts, where people are trusted, and everything is automated.
What I tell people is that using your entrepreneurial skills to find what the industrial pain points are, find solutions to that, understand the dynamics, and then outsource the AI work who can do it better. If you can create that framework where these two parties have an agreed-upon share of the pie, everyone stays in the game. Just do the thing you are passionate about, what you are good at, create that framework of collaboration and you will realize that we are better at collaborating along with a trusted framework. I believe that we are in an era where universal basic income bills will pass, and people won’t have to worry about their basic needs or die of salvation. I rather think about how people would be able to do things that they are most passionate about. This is why that third point of finding your mount Everest is the most important. Focus on what your North Star is, align your North Star with what you are as a Human being, and march in that direction. That direction might change but at least you would have something to map your passion against.
Javaid Iqbal: Who has been your inspiration in this journey?
Prof. Michael Sung: I think I have been fortunate in this case as you ask me about my inspiration. To be honest, the person who has inspired me the most is Elon Musk. I remember 2014 before Elon manifested a lot of success as he has today, I thought he was crazy. At that time, I made a bold prediction that Elon is going to fail. He was doing so many things that were so hard and that too all at the same time. Yet, he manifested all of these things, he built Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company, Neurolink. All these things seem ridiculous and impossible when he announced them, but he continued on his vision. He had that North Star firm and a bold vision of what he wanted.