Alibaba’s Wang Jian: Mayors in the Machine Intelligence Era will not be Human

Wang Jian, Alibaba‘s technical committee chairman, spoke at the Global Emerging Technology Summit sponsored by the MIT Technology Review and DeepTech in Beijing on January 28.

Although the speech focused on AI and the Cloud, Wang Jian switched tracks to talk about machine intelligence. Artificial intelligence and machine intelligence are often considered synonymous, but Wang Jian emphasized the differences.

Wang said when it comes to artificial intelligence, people worry too much about what they can teach machines to do. But machines have already learned to deal with things people can’t handle.

Wang Jian talked about the urban brain. He said cities are the biggest intelligent hardware invented by humans, but that hardware is “developed in body but simple in mind.”

The modern level of IT and Internet infrastructure “demand we rethink the construction of cities,” he said.

Wang said the modern city, in addition to its original land resources, hold important data. The efficient use of resources can optimize urban public resources and solve problems.

Traffic, for example, is a worldwide problem. Wang said mayors around the world cannot count the number of cars on the road, but the urban brain experiment in Hangzhou can give an exact answer. Moreover, the urban brain can deploy traffic lights according to the traffic flow and decrease drive time.

Wang said the urban brain can lower the average time for a car to pass from a fly-over crossing by five minutes. In road trials, the urban brain can increase the average speed of cars by 15 percent to 20 percent.

“I think mayors will no longer be human after the urban brain experiment,” Wang said.

Wang said the urban brain is not just an application of artificial intelligence, but an underground infrastructure introduced in London 160 years ago. This basic infrastructure is involved with smart technology.

Wang said citywide intelligent hardware can promote the development of all sorts of technology and enable people to do what they could not in the past.

This article originally appeared in Sohu and was translated by Pandaily.