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Robot nannies, virtual teachers and many more: iFLYTEK's VP on the future of AI

By Zhao Chenchen, Liu Wei

 , Updated 11:04, 01-Apr-2024

Editor's note: Generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Midjourney and Sora have been fueling our daily discussions recently for their jaw-dropping capabilities. However, this initial excitement also comes with anxiety: What exactly can we expect from AI? Are fears of human labor being replaced by AI warranted? Can we find ways to coexist? In this special series of Tech Talk, we invite scholars and industry experts to explore these questions and see if we can find any common ground. This episode will talk about what applications AI technology has been used for and what the future holds for the industry.

From OpenAI's powerful human-like conversational chatbot ChatGPT to text-to-video model Sora, the recent buzz over AI has ignited the world's excitement on its fast advance and wild potential for the future.

As astonishing as Sora's videos are, iFLYTEK Vice President Fang Ming says there's plenty of room for Sora to grow, a chance which may be exploited by other companies.

"[Sora] can sometimes encounter failures. It can honestly generate nonsense, not only in text but also in images and videos," Fang told CGTN in an exclusive interview at the 6th Art and Science International Exhibition and Symposium, sharing his insights as an industry insider.

While Sora will continuously keep evolving, other companies can innovate different algorithms by adjusting parameters, data learning paths and the weighting coefficients of feedback to achieve completely different results, Fang said. "It's like climbing a mountain; whether we approach from the north or south side, each has its own advantages and disadvantages."

He admitted there is still a gap between the U.S. and China in terms of computing power, which is one of the key ingredients to push forward AI technology. However, he said highly efficient algorithms can largely compensate for an insufficiency in computing power, especially when the data is taken from China's massive amount of collected data. it's this which makes him feel "very much confident in China's AI advance."

Technology into reality

As an industry insider, Fang has revealed an array of practical applications for AI.

An AI-assisted medical diagnostic system that iFLYTEK has developed can prompt alternative diagnosis alerts if doctors misdiagnose patients.

"It can assist rural doctors in improving their diagnostic skills and enabling them to achieve a level of expertise similar to that of experts in big cities," Fang said. "The number of inaccurate and incorrect diagnoses we corrected nationwide are over 1 million. If even 10 percent of these cases involved critical illnesses, it can be considered that we have potentially saved 100,000 lives."

iFLYTEK also created an AI system that can tailor classes to individual students based on their previous performance. "The learning time for children will be shorter, with higher efficiency and better performance," said Fang.

Their technology has been used for pig farming as well. Fang mentioned China lags behind in automation and intelligence in the agricultural sector when compared with many countries.

Raising pigs has a crucial parameter called the "feed-to-meat" ratio. This refers to how much feed a pig consumes to gain a pound of meat. In some developed countries, the ratio can be around 2.6, meaning it takes about 2.6 pounds of feed to increase a pig's weight by one pound. 

"In our country, the industry's average is around 4 to 5. Our pigs need to consume nearly twice as much feed to gain a pound of meat."

That's where AI comes in. Fang said their AI system can replace at least 60 percent manpower in pig farming.

"With the algorithm, robots can assess the weight gain of each pig by just taking a look at them."

When a pig reaches its target weight for the day but still goes to the feeder, the feeder will turn off automatically, preventing the pig from overeating. This ensures that all the pigs have nearly identical weights when they are ready for market, minimizing feed waste and enabling precision feeding.

The AI can also assess the pigs' health by monitoring pigs' grunts, saving on medicine costs.

Practical and emotional functions

Fang said he believes in the future, everyone will have their own virtual secretary, virtual assistant, virtual teacher, and even virtual pets and idols. It means the AI technology will not only be a practical helper for human beings to do chores smartly, but provide in-time emotional value.

He gave a scenario where someone gets home. "[Your service robot] might say something like, 'Hi, you seem a bit unhappy today. I can tell work must have been tough. How about this? I learned a new song today, and I'd like to sing it for you to cheer you up. What do you think?'"

In the scenario, the robot doesn't need its owner to make requests any more, Fang pointed out. "It proactively suggests things based on its assessment of your mood."

"I think that's a meaningful aspect as well," said Fang.

Video edited by Gao Yunxin, Liu Wei

Cover image by Sa Ren

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