AI will be abused, but it will also bring good, say panellists

However, all the panellists agreed that AI is here to stay, and it is not possible to “put the genie back in the bottle”.

Tham Yuen-C

Tham Yuen-C

The Straits Times


(From left) KG Media CEO Andy Budiman, former Singapore foreign minister George Yeo, SenseTime CEO Xu Li and Lianhe Zaobao editor Goh Sin Teck, at the Asia Future Summit on Oct 5, 2023. PHOTO: THE STRAITS TIMES

October 6, 2023

SINGAPORE – The world must assume that artificial intelligence will be abused, as it will take longer for people’s moral sense to catch up with technological advancement, panellists at the Asia Future Summit said on Thursday.

But in the meantime, it is not all peril, and AI also holds the promise of bringing civilisation to another level if governments are watchful and come together to develop rules of engagement, they added.

The impact of AI came up for discussion as former Singapore foreign minister George Yeo, SenseTime chief executive Xu Li and KG Media chief executive Andy Budiman spoke of new ways forward for the world amid societal shifts at a panel moderated by Lianhe Zaobao editor Goh Sin Teck.

Dr Xu, whose Hong Kong-listed AI software company develops facial recognition and content enhancement, among other technologies, said AI has pushed the boundaries of fundamental science and brought a new paradigm in which machines can kick-start the thinking process.

He cited how AlphaGo, the AI system developed by Google subsidiary DeepMind, had made what was considered an unorthodox move in defeating South Korean Lee Sedol, the world champion in strategy game Go.

Most expert Go players had deemed it a bad move, and yet the machine won, showing that mankind can make new discoveries through verifying the conjecture of machines, he said.

Yet, AI can also be used for evil, and “very often, in the initial period, evil wins, and good has difficulty catching up”, said Mr Yeo.

He described how AI could be applied to prenatal tests to predict the intelligence quotient and even physical attributes of babies, noting that some parents may make decisions on the pregnancy based on such information.

He also spoke about how insurance companies can potentially use AI to assess risk, and then use this information to decide who they should market insurance to.

With different countries and cultures adapting to these technological changes at different rates, AI and quantum computing can also create divisions and new patterns of power in the world, he said.

Mr Yeo stressed that AI can also be used for good, adding that people will have to start identifying the dilemmas brought by the technology, and that governments will have to be watchful over how AI develops.

Mr Andy, who heads Indonesia’s largest multi-platform media group, said it would also help for people to have a sense of purpose and history as they embrace technology. He cited how the Sundanese people from West Java traditionally conceive of progress as not linear, but moving up in a spiral motion so that “when you go up, you don’t forget about the starting point”.

Applying this concept to media companies, he said AI can be used by such companies to recommend content that readers want for the purpose of improving engagement, or it can also be used to recommend content that is enlightening and enriching.

In the first scenario, the application of the technology could result in filter bubbles, where readers are exposed only to what they already know. In the second, it can help expose people to different points of view so that they can better understand the world, he added.

“So, the outcome can be very different, depending on the purpose you set for the technology,” he said.

All the panellists agreed that AI is here to stay, and it is not possible to “put the genie back in the bottle”.

Mr Yeo said that if mankind can harness the new possibilities brought about by the technology, it would elevate human civilisation to a completely different level.

“AI takes complexity to a completely different level. And that is the fruit of civilisation, of creation, something we rejoice over, something to celebrate, something to excite us as to the possibilities which are before humankind,” he said.

The Asia Future Summit is an inaugural collaboration between The Straits Times, Lianhe Zaobao and The Business Times.

  • OCBC is the presenting sponsor for the Asia Future Summit 2023. The event is also supported by GuocoLand and Kingsford Group.
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