The great challenge of artificial intelligence

UNTV News   •   December 20, 2019   •   526

Visitors at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, China, 30 August 2019. EPA-EFE FILE/WU HONG

SHANGHAI, CHINA/ SAN FRANCISCO, USA – Artificial intelligence, increasingly present in daily life and driven by China and the United States, will be one of humanity’s greatest challenges, shaping the future of human beings.

British professional services network PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that by 2030 technologies linked to AI – based on automated machine learning by analyzing data – will increase global GDP by 14 percent, about $15.7 trillion, equivalent to the combined GDP of China and India.

Automation will make 75 million jobs disappear and generate another 133 million by 2022, according to the World Economic Forum.

The paradox of making man flourish in a fully mechanized world is the challenge of governments and companies, which have tried to obtain the most precious raw material: citizens’ personal data.

This transformation has one of its main pillars in education.

In the US, disciplines with binary responses like mathematics have been the first to reap the benefits of AI.

The main advantage is the adaptation of the curriculum to each student.

In a class with many children, offering each student tools tailored to their needs has always been a challenge for teachers. AI solutions have accurate data on each student’s level and characteristics, even their mood.

Software programs developed by private companies such as Thinkster, Third Space and Splash Math have already been responsible for teaching hundreds of thousands of children.

One of the pioneering institutions in the introduction of these technologies has been the network of New York Green Ivy private schools.

Founder Jennifer Jones told EFE: “Today, AI does a much better job of supporting individualized student progress than most teachers can.”

According to the report “Artificial Intelligence Market in the US Education Sector,” prepared by market research company Technavio, between 2018 and 2022, turnover in this sector is growing and will continue to increase at an annual rate of 48 percent.

“The only reason there are teachers in basic math classes right now is because of society’s fear of replacing math teachers with machines,” Jones said.

“Society’s feeling about a child learning from a machine versus a person,” she added.

The AI boost in China has come from the government, which launched a plan two years ago with the aim that the technology will be ubiquitous in society by 2030.

Within the project, there is a special section for education that includes the introduction in the curriculum of AI subjects, with $1 billion invested in this area last year, according to official data.

Feng Xiang, a professor at East China Normal University, told EFE the arrival of the era of AI is inevitable and that the most important thing is to train and prepare people on issues such as problem-solving.

But is China ready for this new education? With 1.4 billion inhabitants, competitive environments affect children early on and education has become an obsession.

The National College Entrance Examination, commonly known as the “gaokao,” is the greatest challenge to define a person’s future.

The test grants access to university and its numerical score defines everything.

To do well in it and study at a good university, the most important skill is still memorization.


AI has entered schools to help train citizens of the future but the debate outside the classroom has focused on its potential as a tool to control and shape society, either by private companies and local entities or central government, as in the case of China.

Skynet, the Chinese government’s video surveillance system championed by President Xi Jinping and described by international critics as “Chinese Big Brother,” aims to put 600 million cameras in the streets, many of them equipped with facial recognition, an AI-based technology that is expanding at great speed and normalizing among the population.

Citizen unrest has emerged on social media, where most Chinese give free rein (if possible) to their opinions.

An example is that of Guo Bing, a university professor who denounced a park for imposing facial recognition to gain access.

His case, the first related to the use of facial recognition in China, was accepted by a court, although experts do not believe it will prosper.

Human Rights Watch researcher Maya Wang said the clearest example of the use of technology for social control in China is Xinjiang.

In this region of northwestern China with around 22 million inhabitants, 13 million of them are scrutinized daily: the Uyghur minority ethnic group with around one million of their number held in “re-education centers,” according to NGOs.

Wang told EFE: “When western countries call china Big Brother, are they exaggerating? No.”

“The Chinese government use of mass surveillance is so intrusive that it is possibly unprecedented anywhere in human history,” she added. “In Xinjiang, we have documented it, but in the rest of the country, we don’t know how much data the government collects.”

Unlike China, the US government has managed to avoid controversy around the use of AI as a social control tool.

Criticism has focused on local police forces and the use of facial recognition for tasks such as identifying criminals, looking for missing minors and to prevent fraud.

Critics have argued this technology can perpetuate police biases against ethnic minorities, as it has been proven more errors occur among people with darker skin.

A study conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union found facial recognition had incorrectly identified 28 US members of congress, mostly from ethnic minorities, as criminals when compared to police photographs.

In May 2019, San Francisco in California became the country’s first major city to pass a law banning local agencies, including the police, from using facial recognition techniques. EFE-EPA

Shanghai Disneyland reopens with controlled capacity

UNTV News   •   May 11, 2020

The Shanghai Disneyland theme park reopened to visitors with controlled capacity on Monday, after the COVID-19 pandemic in China became more subdued.

After a brief opening ceremony, the Shanghai Disneyland theme park, the first among Disney’s parks to officially reopen for business in the world, opened at 09:00 on Monday.

The park adopted strict epidemic prevention and control measures, including limiting the number of visitors to 30 percent of its normal capacity of 80,000, accepting only those visitors who booked tickets online in advance.

Meanwhile, visitors need to wear masks, pass temperature checks, show their health certificates, ID cards and valid tickets to enter the wonderland.

At the same time, more frequent disinfection is carried out in the park.

“We’ve also enhanced our cleaning and sanitization throughout the park. So we have many more cast members out, wiping down surfaces, high touch, medium touch, low touch objects to make sure again that we are providing that safe environment for our guests. In addition, we’ve added over 300 hand sanitizers throughout the park at the exits of attractions, inside shops and restaurants to make sure that our guests have that ability to continue to keep their hands clean, which is one of the major means of preventing transmission,” said Andrew Bolstein, senior vice president of operations at Shanghai Disney Resort.

Cast members now wave hello from afar, since interactions and close-up photos are suspended during the initial phase of reopening.

Social distancing is also practiced in cafeterias, queues and even on rides.

“This is our first time in Shanghai. We knew this place would reopen so we booked our tickets online. It wasn’t hard to buy,” said a visitor.

While most attractions are open, some interactive experiences such as children’s play areas and theater shows remain closed.

The Shanghai Disney Resort announced temporary closure in late January in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. It reopened the Disneytown, Wishing Star Park, and the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel in early March. (Reuters)

Shanghai schools gradually reopen after three-month hiatus

UNTV News   •   May 7, 2020

In an unexpected turn of events, 17-year-old Zhang Jiayi was, for the first time, excited to go back to school. The novel coronavirus which first broke out in China’s central Hubei province had kept schools shut since end of January.

While business activity across China had began to resume not long after the start of the virus outbreak, schools in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing were only allowed to reopen in late April to senior high school students.

“Usually I look really forward to the holidays but when this vacation suddenly got too long, I really wanted to come back to school instead,” Zhang, a student at the Shanghai High School, said on Thursday (May 7), the second day since classes resumed.

So far, two-thirds of Shanghai High School’s student body have been allowed back on campus.

The school has been preparing for its reopening since February. Students and staff are required to pass through a thermal scanner upon entering the school, and all building entrances in the school compound are equipped with sanitising stations.

“In order to prevent the possible spread of conoravirus, we require students must wear masks in the hallways, and they must wear masks in the classrooms. These places are at high risk for cross infection,” said school principal Feng Zhigang.

Posters on hygiene measures to tackle the coronavirus dot the school landscape. The cafeteria was also outfitted to accommodate social distancing during meals–glass panes were erected across tables, creating a divide which only permits two students to eat at the same time. Buildings, including the cafeteria, classrooms and dormitories, are cleaned and disinfected two to three times a day.

The school also has stockpiles of disinfectant, personal protective equipment, gloves, hand sanitiser and masks in its infirmary, as per the Shanghai government’s requirement.

China’s total number of coronavirus cases now stands at 82,885, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,633, the national health authority said on Thursday. (Reuters)

(Production: Xihao Jiang)

Shanghai, Beijing schools re-open amid lingering virus worries

UNTV News   •   April 27, 2020

High school and middle school students in Shanghai and Beijing started returning to class on Monday (April 27), for the first time in three months after being closed to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

In Shanghai, students queued outside the school’s entrance with marks at a one-metre distance on the ground to maintain social distancing. They also had to pass through a thermal detector before seeing their classmates again.

Although the city has not reported any new domestic cases for a while, parents still had some apprehension about the change.

“I am only worried about the development of the epidemic when school reopens – nothing else to worry about. After all, children are still very young and they know nothing about hygiene. They need some guidance from teachers,” said Sun Zhiping, a father who sent his child to school.

In Beijing, parent Sha Li said she was happy with the measures being taken at her child’s school, including assigned seating and plastic shields.

“Teachers had detailed plans in place two weeks ago. This is way beyond any parent’s expectation,” she said. Students writing high school and college entrance exams in Beijing were allowed back into class, although many schools in the country’s capital remain closed.

Schools in Shanghai have been closed since January, with the outbreak leading to an extended winter break that lasted until the semester on March 2 with online classes.

According to Shanghai’s education commission, schools will make preparations to resume classes for other grades before May 6 with the specific timing to be announced by each school.

Shanghai is still dealing with imported cases of the virus, including 303 new ones as of the end of Sunday (April 26). (Reuters)

(Production: Xihao Jiang, Shubing Wang, Nanlin Fang)


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