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Applying Artificial Intelligence to Real World Problems

Artificial intelligence has a myriad real world applications, and in China, the search for those applications has just begun. That was the message from executives from two tech companies on the vanguard of China’s A.I. revolution, one a U.S. firm with a long history in China, and the other of the county’s newest tech upstarts.

Chen Liming, chairman of IBM China, explained how his company, which first entered the China market in 1934 to help with administration of a Beijing hospital, today uses A.I. for a host applications, ranging from recruitment and hiring—the company processes tens of thousands of job applications every day—to identifying product defects. IBM’s Watson, a supercomputer that combines artificial intelligence and advanced analytics software, he said, is capable of diagnosing 13 different types of cancer.

Alan Qi, chief data scientist at Alibaba Group mobile payments affiliate Ant Financial, said his company relies on artificial intelligence to improve customer service, assess the creditworthiness of applicants for its micro-loans, and calculate risks of issuing its insurance products. Artificial intelligence, he noted, enables Ant to serve the 900 million customers with fewer than 10,000 employees.

Both executives agreed A.I. is transforming the nature of work. But they disputed the suggestions that A.I. would prove a long-term job killer. “With each round of technological progress,” Chen noted, “society has created more jobs.” Qi argued A.I. would free humans from highly repetitive jobs, to focus on creative work. “What we need today,” he said, “is a combination of human beings and machines together.”