The Big Talk Summit: How Technology is Changing Society

Robin Li

Last week I was fortunate to attend The Big Talk Summit at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. This was the first time The Big Talk was hosted in Silicon Valley, and this particular event brought together a cross-disciplinary group of leading entrepreneurs, developers, and thought leaders to explore the convergence of fast-moving technologies in the reinvention and future of our society.

Baidu organized the event, co-hosting with Pingwest, ChinaSF, and Beijing Internet Association. There were many impressive speakers, including Jason Pontin, Chief Editor of MIT Technology Review and Steve Wozniak, Co-Founder of Apple. The talks, ranging from AI to Digital Medicine, all revolved around the theme of “Smart Society and Beyond.” It was a very enlightening event, and I can't wait to attend the next!

Here are my 5 favorite insights on how technology is reshaping and disrupting our society:

1. The Virtuous Cycle of AI: Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist of Baidu, gave a big talk on artificial intelligence as the driving force for digital society. It opened my eyes to how the cycle of AI revolves around a great product, users, and growing data sets.  This virtuous cycle expands the large neural networks that power deep learning for text, images, and speech. For instance, Baidu AI can take now take images, and write captions with context, in multiple languages.  

2. Speech + Mobile: Speech will revolutionize mobile as we continue to move towards a speech interface. Speech interfaces can empower users with varying literacy levels and diverse linguistic backgrounds with vast information access. This is how the next five billion people come online. 

3.  Impact on Labor: AI will create new challenges for labor: As technology transforms our society, displacing human labor with self-driving cars or robotics, how can we reshape the workforce? How can we retrain huge numbers of people for different roles? This is a serious and unanswered question. 

4.  “Consciousness”: It is the forbidden word in robotics - and is becoming reality.  Cornell University and others are working on sentient robots powered by deep learning AI technology. Hod Lipson has built self-aware robots that use feedback from their limbs to learn how to walk.  These robots can learn, understand themselves, adapt, and even self-replicate. Amazing.  And a little scary.  

5. Components: Our future robots are going to be more organic with embedded components.  3D printing is enabling arbitrary shapes and materials with print configurations that could include components from batteries to muscle wires.  

What do all these mean?  Our "far future" is coming sooner than we think.