Tencent chief warns of “huge pain” ahead as AI advances

In a preface to the tech giant’s second annual Sustainable Social Values Report, Tencent co-founder and CEO Pony Ma expressed ambivalence about the fast pace of AI’s development.

“The new wave of technology represented by AI may promote human well-being to a new stage but could also inflict huge pain … [through] the process of radical change.”, Ma wrote.

Aside from Ma, China’s tech leaders have been quiet on the dangers of an AI revolution, but the government has been among the world’s most proactive in regulating the technology. The Cyberspace Administration finalised wide-ranging laws last month mitigating against AI-induced damage to mental health, business competition, and national security, paralleling Ma’s concerns about AI’s harmful potential.

Tencent has been taking a measured approach to the commercial generative AI race compared to its rivals. Baidu, the creators of China’s top search engine, demoed the first version of its AI-powered chatbot Ernie Bot in March, just months after ChatGPT’s release and at the height of its first wave of buzz.

Meanwhile, there have been no major updates from Tencent’s new generative AI team, who are expected to eventually launch a ChatGPT-style service integrated within the WeChat super app ecosystem “Our strategy is that we will try to do it right rather than do it in a rush,” explained Tencent president Martin Lau Chi-ping in March. This bearish approach appears shrewd given the underwhelming response to Ernie Bot, which MIT Technology Review called “unbearably mediocre” after it was mocked by Chinese netizens.

In the social values report, Ma also stressed the importance of using AI to improve people’s well-being. “If science and technology are to be leveraged, they must be people-centred with a view to genuinely enhancing the well-being of humanity,” wrote Ma. “They must do so with broad consensus, collaboration, and action. Only then can they contribute to the sustainable development of society.”

Tencent’s self-developed AI model Hunyuan is currently undergoing internal testing across the companies’ cloud, gaming, and advertising services but there is no indication yet of the timescale for its public launch.


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