Berggruen China Center: Spring Recap 2019

In Spring 2019, the Berggruen China Center focused on exploring how frontier technologies are influencing humanity from a Chinese perspective. The Center engages the most exceptional Chinese thinkers from different cultures and has created a robust platform for them. Most of the programs were hosted by the Berggruen Research Center at Peking University which was established in December 2018. The Center is home to the Berggruen Seminar Series where world class scholars are invited to share their latest research with the Chinese public.

In a world where more than forty AI principles and guidelines have been published and even more wait on the production line, the Center dives deep into AI to learn about the philosophical roots of ethical principles which may influence or support regulatory policies. On March 22, sixteen prestigious Chinese philosophers and AI scientists gathered at a workshop titled “When AI Meets Chinese Philosophers” to discuss these issues. The workshop demonstrated that interdisciplinary communication between scientists and Chinese philosophers can deepen awareness of traditional Chinese thought on the meaning of life which still influences China today. This communication between disciplines has the potential to illuminate avenues for expanding the possibilities of human development in alignment with that of AI. A series of workshops organized by the Center will be compiled into a book to encourage a more systematic review of the challenges faced by humanity, from a multicultural perspective.

Chinese researchers have become more aware of the ethical issues facing the development of AI in recent years. In a nod to this expertise, the Center was invited by the Chinese Association of Artificial Intelligence to host a forum called “The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence from a Global Perspective” at the “2019 Global Artificial Intelligence Technology Conference.” In his keynote speech, Professor Wendell Wallach implored the audience to consider AI within a long-term framework and to recognize that any “short-term gains could be far-outweighed by longer-term costs.”

While discussing the theme of “Will a Focus on the Ethics of AI Promote or Curb the Development of AI?”, Baidu’s Huan Jun highlighted the importance of developing open-access AI and Deep Neural learning as a way to protect against adversarial attacks in both Whitebox and Blackbox settings. Google’s Jake Lucchi expressed solidarity with Baidu’s focus on open-source culture over AI, and he expressed hope that the development of AI elsewhere would also be combined with appropriate levels of human direction and control. Wu Tong from China Robot Industry Alliance accentuated the need to develop anthropogenic ethical standards from a technological perspective, as “the freer the robot, the more pressing the need for ethical standards.” Nathalie Nevejans from the University of Artois underscored the importance of utilizing AI to promote human quality of life.

Responding to the question, “How Large Is the Risk Posed by AI Ethics at Present and in the Future?”, UT Delft’s Professor Jeroen van den Hoven argued that AI by design must prioritize intuitive engineering that naturally evokes an ethical response. Berggruen’s Professor Zeng Yi called for ethical discussions on the development of Artificial General Intelligence or Artificial Super Intelligence. Tim Pan of Microsoft introduced the company’s education program, which helps Chinese university students to understand AI technology.

To answer the question, “What Form of International Cooperation Is Required?”, the University of Tokyo’s Professor Osamu Sakura articulated that the Japanese perception of AI is very much rooted in the East Asian View to Nature (EAVN), in which East Asian cultures see nature within a holistic, harmony-oriented framework, ultimately with the view that humans should be considered part of nature. Mr. Pierre Lemonde, the Science and Technology Counselor at the Embassy of France in Beijing, spoke about the importance of involving political scientists in the AI conversation, so that there can also be discussion of AI within an electoral and democratic context. Chen Xiaoping from the University of Science and Technology of China discussed the philosophical concerns that would arise about AI develop consciousness.

The Berggruen Seminar Series is a new project launched by the Center in 2019 that aims to attract world class thinkers into China’s intellectual communities. In the first seminar, which kicked things off on March 27, Peking University’s plant scientist Bai Shunong argued that the starting point for the evolution of human beings lies in the fundamental fact that human beings are organisms. Following the logic of life, Bai attempted to discern a reasonable solution for reconstructing the conceptual framework for human cognition. The second seminar featured the University of Tokyo’s Osamu Sakura on May 23. Sakura expressed that the western portrayal of humanity as a weak species should not be the foundation for our approach to human-AI relations. “The Difficulties and Significance of Cultural Integration: Ten Letters Between Zhao Tingyang and Alain Le Pichon” was the topic of the third seminar, which was held on June 22. Zhao and Le Pichon discussed the limitations and issues of inter-subjectivity, and suggested cross-subjectivity as one possible approach to addressing these difficulties.

The Center has run one-to-one interviews with various experts on such topics as: “How to Form an Ethics Criterion for AI;” “Major Trends in Research on the Future of Humanity;” “How Plant Research Can Help Us Understand the Meaning of Life;” “AI Human-Machine Symbiosis;” “The Role of Culture in AI/Human Relations;” and “AI Governance.”