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James Cameron Discusses the Future of AI with Xiaomi Boss Lei Jun

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James Cameron has been doing the media rounds in China in the past few days, looking to plug his Robert Rodriguez collaboration Alita: Battle Angel. The director is well-loved in the country courtesy of Titanic and Avatar, both of which were colossal hits here, so has been guaranteed attention, but a couple of his promotional appearances have particularly caught our eye.

First, he sat down for a chat about sci-fi with the author-director team behind The Wandering Earth, Liu Cixin and Frant Gwo. And then he met up with Xiaomi head honcho Lei Jun (himself keen to plug a new phone) to discuss the future of AI.

Ever the publicist, Lei wrote a blog on WeChat shortly after the event to summarise some of the key moments, noting his excitement at “finally” being able to meet with Cameron. As part of the meeting, Lei gifted Cameron with a Lantern Festival papercut that featured images from some of the latter’s classic movies:

lei jun james cameron terminator titanic

Over the course of the conversation, the pair aired their fears regarding the future of AI but also the opportunities such technological advances present. Lei writes that there was also some discussion regarding exploration and, “doing something that no one has done, or discovering new areas that have not been reached before”. Both apparently spoke of their hopes to make it into outer space one day.

We’re yet to find an English transcript of the talk unfortunately, but below are a few translated highlights from Lei’s post:

“During the meeting, I talked a lot with Mr. Cameron. The most important topic is: Is the increasing power of artificial intelligence a crisis or a blessing for humans?

“Mr. Cameron believes that the progress of AI is advancing in leaps and bounds. AI can solve problems that people couldn’t solve before by looking at issues from different angles. It will benefit human beings and bring us many advantages. It will promote our medical, social, manufacturing and economic development.

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“I very much agree with this point of view. Because the essence of the development of science and technology is to better develop human beings. Steve Jobs once compared the computer’s intellectual efficiency to a human brain. But computers are more about the auxiliary execution of computing, while artificial intelligence provides the ability to make decisions beyond the human brain. For example, Alpha GO broke the mould in how it played Go and broadened the horizons of human players. Artificial intelligence has the ability to elevate humanity in a new dimension.

“Artificial intelligence has made epoch-making achievements, but it has also brought more worries. The past advances in science and technology are basically the ability to extend humanity at the physical level: cars make people go faster and farther, GPS and various sensors make human perceptions expand unprecedentedly, and electric lights can make people move at night. However, artificial intelligence learns to “think”, and thinking skills such as analysis, judgment, and decision-making are no longer exclusive to humans.

“In the face of such unprecedented changes, Mr. Cameron said that when he filmed Terminator, AI was still pure science fiction, and now it has gradually entered reality. He believes that artificial intelligence in the broad sense today may have independent thinking and emotions, even surpassing human intelligence, which may bring certain dangers. It is important to note that the current progress of AI is not subject to any regulation and there is no clear ethical norms when dealing with it.

“So the future of AI may be like we have faced before with nuclear technology: if it is handled well, it can bring clean energy, but on the other hand it has brought nuclear weapons, which at their worst threaten the future of mankind itself. “

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.

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