The U.S. Is Ahead of China in AI Innovation--for Now

Scientists working in artificial intelligence need to do a better job of explaining the promises and perils of the emerging technology, two of the top figures working in that field said.

Andrew Ng, a Stanford University adjunct professor and former top AI scientist at Alphabet Inc.'s Google and Baidu Inc., and Tong Zhang, executive director of the AI Lab at Tencent Holdings Ltd., said the U.S. remains ahead of China in terms of AI innovation. The two shared a stage Friday at The Wall Street Journal's D.Live Asia conference in Hong Kong.

"The hype issue is an issue," said Mr. Ng, adding that the technology promises to transform many industries. But he said a common fear that AI could one day pose an existential threat "is a little like worrying about overpopulation on the planet Mars."

Both executives have spent time working for both Chinese and U.S. tech companies, and they said China has leverage in some areas.

"The U.S. is very good at inventing basic technologies, basic innovations" in AI, such as neural networks, said Mr. Ng. "The China ecosystem is very good at taking things to market."

Mr. Zhang said Chinese universities are working to improve the quality of scientific research in AI. "There's a lot of Chinese companies as well as universities that are hoping to do more innovative research," he said. "I think it's happening but the U.S. on this particular aspect is leading."

The pair also said few professions are likely to be untouched by the rise of AI. One study, for example, from consulting firm Opimas LLC, said AI is likely to erase 230,000 jobs in capital markets by 2025.

"Almost anything that a typical human can do in less than one second of mental thought we can now automate in the future using AI," Mr. Ng said.

Write to Dan Strumpf at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 09, 2017 05:56 ET (09:56 GMT)