Presenting AI as optimistic or dystopian?

AI 2041: Ten visions for our future is an atypical book. Each chapter consists of a short story, written by science fiction writer Chen Qiufan, and a related review article by Kai-Fu Lee, CEO of Sinovation Ventures and author of the non-fiction bestseller. . AI superpowers. Chen, who is also the founder of Thema Mundi, a content development studio, spoke with Fast business on the eve of the release of FW 2041 on his collaboration with Lee, his own experiences with artificial intelligence, and what machine learning will mean for artists and writers. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Fast business: How did this project get started ?

Chen Qiufan: I worked for Google [from] 2008 to 2013, riding with Kai-Fu. Two years ago he contacted me. He had this great idea to write a book, mixing the genre of sci-fi with technical analysis, which I thought was fantastic because I had the same idea years ago.

Before you started collaborating, did you or Kai-Fu Lee have a role model in mind? Were there other works that you thought were good models for what you wanted to do?

No, this is something brand new, because it is a combination of science fiction and non-fiction. So we had to build everything from scratch. It took us a while to figure out how to do it right. The first half of the year was pretty rough in my opinion, as I’m used to writing on my own, like playing solo. So it’s totally different, like playing in a band. We had [go] back and forth to nail everything. It took a while, but I’m quite happy and excited.

Can you talk a little more about this process?

Chen Qiufan [Photo: Yilan Deng]

Shortly after starting to write the book the pandemic [emerged], so we had to work remotely. I’m based in Shanghai and he usually works in Beijing or Taipei. We communicated through Zoom and conference calls. And before that, we had a lot of conversations with scientists and entrepreneurs, academics, artificial intelligence researchers. Then we had [to figure out] the right order to put all these different technologies, where to go further and how to pack the different technological points and in [each] story. When we’ve found the right way [to tell] the story, and I started to write the draft, then Dr Lee gave me some comments and after several rounds of discussion, we finalized the story and handed it to the translator and editor.

Kai-Fu Lee has a generally optimistic view of artificial intelligence. Yet some of your stories highlight some of the darker parts of AI. How did you reconcile your optimism with your artistic desire to paint a more complete picture?

That was the biggest argument at the very beginning because in science fiction we tell a lot of stories about AI in a dystopian way, like The Terminator, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Where Ex Machina. But in this book, Dr Lee and I agreed on some levels that we would try to build this positive and bright future of AI and how it could empower the individual and societies. The problem is, if it all ends well, there is no dramatic conflict, there is no storytelling. So we had to figure out how to combine that kind of positive [viewpoint] with some character development. And also we put [AI] in the context of a specific culture, such as India, Nigeria, China, Japan, America, Australia and the Middle East. That kind of combination – bringing out some nuance and authenticity of how technology might interact with people’s locality and culture – that’s how we figured out where the drama was coming from.

One of your short stories, “State of Trance,” included some AI-generated passages. Where did the idea come from?

Kai fu lee [Photo: Kai Fu Lee]

In 2017, I wrote a collection entitled Algorithms for life, which is six short stories about the relationship between humans and AI. I thought I could take advantage of AI as a tool in this book. So I asked my former Google colleague Mr. Wang Yonggang, [head of Sinovation Ventures AI Institute]. He works with Dr Lee and is also a fan of science fiction. He said, “Okay, I’ll help you build this algorithm.” Back then it was just LSTM (long term memory) and CNN (convolutional neural network), very simple stuff. We built this template and fed it with all my writing materials to somehow mimic my writing style, but I have to say it didn’t make any sense. Last year we switched to GPT-2 [an AI tool created by OpenAI[. It’s a more advanced algorithm with much more powerful computation power. We fed it with tons of gigabytes of data [from] on the internet to get smarter and easier to write and even generate something outside of your expectations. Right now I often use it when I need to come up with ideas that aren’t coming from me, but coming from me on some level. So I use it as a tool, as an assistant to help me come up with new ideas.

What would you say to other artists, novelists, musicians, or visual artists who are inherently skeptical of AI, and how would you react to people who would say, “Well, I’m afraid that? ‘Does AI not cut artistic or creative jobs’?

FW 2041 actually exploits a little of this, how artists could [evolve] in the future with the help of AI. We have technologies such as natural language processing and AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality) and XR (extended reality). We can create super realistic avatars, which can really recreate a real actor or actress on some level. In the future, we could use AI to help or even replace real writers, musicians and actors, average performers. If you reach the top of the pyramid, [you’re] irreplaceable because of your imagination, your life experiences, your perception of the world. Your value system is not machine replaceable. So I think the most important thing for all of these artists today is really to find their own unique voice. Don’t copy anyone else. You have to be yourself. This is the only way to survive the future with all these super powerful AI bots. How we are going to survive is with our imagination.

Were you already writing science fiction when you were at Google?

I was a fan of science fiction since I was a child. I watched Star wars and Star Trek when I was about 7, 8 or 9 years old. So this is the age when I started reading and writing science fiction. I was a hobbyist when I worked at Google, so I used my 20% of the time on my handwriting.

Would you consider this kind of collaboration again?

To be honest, this is the most difficult book I have ever written, so I should think about it very carefully, as not all contributors are like Dr Lee, who has such a wealth of experience and expertise in one area. specific. He is also a creative person. Do not be [fooled] by his prospects as a super-professional businessman! He has lots of good ideas.

What is an example of one of his ideas that you incorporated into your part of the book?

AI 2041: Ten visions for our future by Chen Qiufan

One of my favorite stories is called “Contactless Love”. This [takes place] in Shanghai and it is about the pandemic. This is the girl who suffers from PTSD long after the pandemic. In 2041, she is still so afraid to leave her apartment to find her lover who has crossed the world by plane to São Paulo. In the beginning [of writing] I thought, “Okay, let’s just have a happy ending, the girl meets the boy.” Dr Kai-Fu Lee said, “Why don’t we make a boy put together game to get this girl out of her traumatized status, like gamification therapy to guide this girl to her lover.” I thought it was a totally brilliant idea, and I incorporated it into my storytelling. And I think it’s one of the greatest stories I’ve ever written.

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