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China Daily Global / 2023-05 / 19 / Page008

Microsoft executive says positioning of human-machine relationship is critical

By MA SI | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-05-19 00:00

A responsible approach is needed to maximize the benefits of artificial intelligence, which as a tool could be a powerful assistant to humans, according to a senior executive of United States tech giant Microsoft.

At Vision China on Thursday, Wei Qing, chief technology officer of Microsoft (China) Ltd, said that in the era of AI, positioning the relationship between humans and machines is of crucial importance.

"AI should be a copilot rather than an autopilot. In other words, the machine is an assistant to help people, and no matter how powerful, it is always in the side seat, not in the driver's seat," Wei said.

He referred to US engineer Vannevar Bush, who in 1945 published an essay titled "As We May Think", in which he was already envisioning the information era and the need to design a machine to help humans manage the information overload.

More importantly, Bush envisioned that the machine would be able to process information through selection by association, which Wei said is similar to the way generative AI works now.

Generative AI is the latest tech frontier and has taken the world by storm. It refers to computer algorithms trained to produce new text, images, code, video or audio, a key example of which is ChatGPT, an AI chatbot developed by US-based AI research company OpenAI.

Wei quoted a line from the 1927 movie Metropolis describing the difference between humans and machines: "The mediator between head and hands must be the heart."

"It is all about how to position humans and how to position machines. If we position this incorrectly, this might have a negative impact on society, but if this is positioned in the right way, as we mentioned just now, in a responsible way, we might see the coming of a new era of AI that will really help humans in a purposeful manner," Wei added.

His comments come in the wake of global discussion over the use of ChatGPT-style products and related AI technology, which have raised concerns of ethics, data security and infringement of personal privacy.

Meanwhile, the number of incidents involving the misuse of AI continues to rise. According to the AIAAIC database, an independent organization that tracks incidents related to the ethical misuse of AI, the number of incidents and controversies has increased 26-fold since 2012.

In an open letter in March, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and a group of AI experts and industry executives called for a six-month pause in developing language models more powerful than OpenAI's newly launched GPT-4, citing potential risks to society, with experts saying the development of responsible AI is vital to long-term, sustainable growth.

"At Microsoft, we have principles laid out as our North Star in doing all things related to AI, which starts from a foundation of accountability and covers all stages," Wei said.

But principles don't execute themselves, and they need to be interpreted. To solve this problem, Microsoft also provides tools and frameworks such as a measurement standard and tests for promoting responsible AI development, Wei added.

He also highlighted the fact that even though AI is now the buzzword, digital transformation remains the foundation for the progress of machine capabilities.

"No matter how powerful a machine is, it needs human data, either human-generated data or data generated by human-developed machines," Wei said.

"Then, through computer algorithms, AI can turn data and point-in-time data into information and knowledge.

"Its like the well-known information pyramid, DIKW — data, information, knowledge and wisdom. Humans should stay at the top, at the wisdom level, and machines should handle the rest of the work."


Wei Qing



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