Vic Lee:
If life is inevitably manipulated virtually, how should people survive in the jungles of technology?

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Would you go to an AI (Artificial Intelligence) doctor? Have you seen doctors using artificial intelligence to assist in diagnosis and treatment? When artificial intelligence diagnosis is more accurate than doctors, what impact will it have on the medical industry? 

 

As the changes take place in the medical field, technology has swept through our lives and become a part of everyone; the virtual world is starting to become part of ourselves, invisibly affecting the emotions, behaviors, and values of everyone who lives in it. 

 

When technology is becoming a transcendent force, how will the world continue to change in the future? What will impact the basic consensus that humanity has built over the long term? In the face of this, how should the creators, users, and owners of technology think and act to better prepare for the future? 

 

On May 10, Yew Chung Yew Wah's "Planet Leadership Series" returned to Yew Chung International School of Hong Kong with great acclaim. We were honored to have Mr. Vic Lee, one of the co-founders of Tencent and founder of Catalyst Education Lab Foundation, an educational charity foundation, on campus to share an insightful live broadcast to the students, teachers, and tens of thousands of viewers online. 

 

Vic's thoughts were deep and keen, and his collision with students was sincere and full of wisdom. Therefore, we decided to leave a complete archive of this precious exchange of ideas in a meticulously organized long article for you to look back at and continue exploring. The following are the highlights of the event. 

 

Mr. Vic Lee

One of the co-founders of Tencent
Former Senior Executive Vice President of Tencent Group
Founder and Managing Partner of Virtus Inspire Ventures
Chairman of Virtus Inspire Asset Management
Founder of Catalyst Education Lab Foundation, an educational charity foundation


Vic is one of the co-founders of Tencent and has been involved in and witnessed the growth of the little penguin into an Internet giant. In 2008, he was named "China's Top CIO" by CEO&CIO Magazine. After many years of dedication to technology, he switched gears in 2012. He became the founder of Virtus Inspire Ventures and Catalyst Education Lab, an educational charity foundation. As a father of one child, Vic often thinks about the future of the next generation as he works to empower basic education in an ever-changing world.

Inevitable reality: To be empowered by AI

 

When it comes to technology, many people will first think of the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on our lives. 

 

Stanford did a study once; how likely are experienced doctors in the United States to be able to tell precisely what disease you have? That percentage is 60%. And the percentage that he can give an effective differential diagnosis or treatment plan in the case of accurately determining what disease you have is also 60%. But if AI is used, it can raise these two percentages to 90% -your disease will not be missed, misdiagnosed, or delayed. 

 

Patients are not the only ones whom AI impacts- People will find that a doctor who has worked for more than a decade may be at the same level of diagnosis and treatment as a newly graduated doctor. 

 

So what can they do about it? Maybe they need to reposition their role and do more research on new diagnostics or treatments. Or provide better services to patients, not by waiting to serve them when they are sick, but by engaging in health management to help them reduce the possibility of getting sick. 

 

It will also change the way pharmaceutical companies operate. Now, one of the core competencies of a pharmaceutical company is its relationship with doctors. After the launch of new drugs, pharmaceutical companies need to cooperate with doctors to conduct real-world studies to solve the problems encountered in medication use by doctors. When doctors and hospitals get better service and support, they will adopt its drugs more often. Then it will be able to have more revenue to support more research, forming a virtuous closed loop. 

 

With artificial intelligence, pharmaceutical companies will find that they need to put more effort into R&D and compete openly and transparently with other pharmaceutical companies' drugs because your relationship with your doctor is not necessarily one of the most important aspects anymore. 

 

Similarly, health insurers will no longer be able to use the diagnosis, treatment, and reimbursement data they have as a competitive barrier. Hospitals will help the individual health insurer effectively control spending after applying artificial intelligence to the diagnostic and treatment process. Health insurers may need to get closer to their customers and develop personalized insurance products or work more closely with medical technology companies to develop better treatment technologies. 

 

Medical regulators will also need to adjust the scope and focus of regulation accordingly to include artificial intelligence companies to avoid harming the whole society due to conflicts of interest. Artificial intelligence companies also need to balance social values with their intellectual property and commercial interests in their interactions with regulators and various stakeholders. 

 

From this example, you can see that a slight advancement in AI can hugely impact the whole ecosystem.

 

Of course, AI has entered every aspect of our lives, not just healthcare. A study by McKinsey many years ago pointed out that by 2030, 50% of all jobs will be replaced by AI. 

 

Think about it, 50% of the jobs that were replaced served initially many people, and now these people need to rely on the services of robots. Your life needs to be empowered by AI to live better in the future. It may not be easy to survive if you do not use artificial intelligence. 

 

It's like we can't leave our mobile phones now. If you go to a job interview and tell your employer that they won't be able to find me after work, no one will hire you. You also need to use the phone to get information and contact the outside world on time. Without mobile phones, you will be disconnected from the real world and not competitive. 

 

Similarly, you may need to use AI in the future to be competitive enough to survive in society. So, it's not a question of whether to choose, but how far you want to go. 

 

Some people who want to be more competitive may do it very aggressively. Some may want to replace a leg with a robot leg, and some have said they want to implant a chip in their brain. In the future, I'm sure it will happen. 

 

Inevitable reality: survival in the virtual world and the joy and sorrow of being manipulated by the virtuality 

 

Social networks and personal online media are now well developed. More and more people use online tools to tap into knowledge and resources online. Shortly, the existence of the virtual world will become more and more part of ourselves. Combining their words and actions in the real and virtual worlds is important to understand a person entirely. Each person may have one or more avatars in the virtual world that will influence your image, identity, and influence in this world and help you access resources and knowledge. 

 

When we discover that our abilities rely heavily on artificial intelligence and that a large part of our lives takes place in the virtual world, our trajectory is influenced by the virtual world. 

 

I was recently decorating my house. When I was shopping on Taobao, I saw that it recommended me a rug that fit my design ideas perfectly. It probably found that I browsed many design websites and knew what style I liked. When I didn't know what I needed, "it" had already figured it out. 

 

Shopping, news, travel, consumption, music, videos contents, etc., are recommended by the algorithm for you are influencing your likes and dislikes, life trajectory, and even values and beliefs. This part of the influence may sometimes be invisible to everyone, but it already exists. If we carefully examine it, we will find that a slight change in the algorithm may change the trajectory of our lives. 

 

Paradigm shift: the polarization of influence and the disappearance of order

 

As we rely more and more on technology, some basic assumptions about how the world works may change. 

 

Here, I would like to borrow an academic term called "paradigm shift". A paradigm is a consensus on some basic theory in a certain field. Based on this consensus, people carry out further theory construction or development. When the basic consensus changes, many of the rules built on it will change. 

 

For example, the most typical example is the geocentric and heliocentric controversy. If you lived in a time when geocentrism was dominant, would you believe that heliocentrism was correct? This change in belief profoundly affected religion, astronomy, physics, navigation, trade, culture, and even the order of the entire world. 

 

I cite this concept to say that advances in technology will bring about a series of changes in fundamental assumptions that will significantly impact the way the world works. 

 

One of these is that human influence will be polarized. After nearly 80 years after World War II, the world has experienced events such as colonial independence, affirmative action, welfare systems, and financial regulatory reform. The general trend is for everyone to become more and more equal. But unfortunately, technology may shift that trend. 

 

For users of technology, is what they have in the virtual world really what they own? The person who controls the technology simply changes the algorithm or rules slightly, and what others have will become worthless. 

 

Many people with technological influence can constantly extend and expand their influence. They can extend from recommending you a small video advertising goods to influencing what you buy; from recommending what medicine you buy to influencing which doctor you see; from recommending you health insurance products to influencing what financial services you use; from recommending what financial services you use to influencing your perception of the world economy, and even how this society works. 

 

When these influences are in the hands of just a few, it becomes a game for the few. The "rules of the game" become unpredictable because of the diversity and variability of individuals' knowledge, experience, emotions, and values. 

 

Paradigm shift: progress is fragile and reversible

 

The absence of order will breed conflict. People don't necessarily agree with all of what Jared Diamond tells us in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. But I believe that natural disasters and plagues, divergent interests between nations, and changes in power due to technology and productivity are all aspects that trigger conflict. 

 

The impact of technology on the world will be enormous when conflict occurs, thanks to its powerful influence. Perhaps you will face a world in which order is constantly challenged and shaken. 

 

The world order after World War II is constantly improving. But as more and more conflicts emerge, progress may stop or even be reversed. The gains made by progress become increasingly fragile and subverted. 

 

Of course, everyone may define progress differently. My understanding of progress is that people are becoming more materially rich, that there are more diverse spiritual choices and mutual tolerance, and that there is more goodwill and less hostility between people and countries. 

 

Over the past seven or eight decades, the world has continued developing and progressing. Many people believe that human society is always moving forward, but it may not be. Development and progress can alleviate or obscure many problems. But for a long time to come, there may no longer be a long-term trend of unilateral progress. Many issues will become acute, which will, in turn, further impede progress. 

 

The ways to survive in the technology jungle

 

The barriers are getting higher and higher, and it is more and more challenging to achieve success. The rules of the game can change at any time, and the results achieved can be overturned. How to survive in the crisis-ridden technology jungle? We can find a way out from several aspects, such as cognition, capability, and motivation. 

 

First, we need to have a comprehensive view and the ability to think at a higher level. 

 

The example I often give is the development of the music industry over the past two decades. Before the emergence of online music services, users needed to spend one or two hundred yuan to buy a CD to listen to music. But there were ten songs on a CD, and maybe only one song was my favorite. I wasn't willing to pay 100 yuan for the whole CD, but I was willing to pay 10 yuan for that one song. Someone tried to dismantle the songs and sell them online, hoping that more people would be willing to spend money on music. 

 

Later, these companies discovered that the Chinese people are strange; they don't like to pay for music for themselves but are willing to pay for others. For example, they were buying background music for personal blogs or paying to set up mobile phone ring tones, which gave rise to another business model. 

 

This model didn't make much money, so the creators went to study how record companies made money. They found it hard for the record companies to make money from CD sales because piracy was too serious. Their business model started to change to make a singer popular first and then let him participate in the various shows and advertising endorsements. So, making these singers popular has become a key part of this model. These companies thought they could make an online music media to promote singers through music charts or organize singer competitions. 

 

But as more singers come, they find it difficult to monopolize all singer resources, as listeners will have more choices. But on the other hand, when people who listen to music have many choices, they don't know what songs to choose or even what they like to listen to. So, the familiar patterns of music streaming began to emerge. 

 

When the online music industry started, you were probably just an engineer. You could start your own business because you had mastered some audio codecs and network transmission technology. But as the industry kept evolving, you must have enough knowledge of different Internet application scenarios, content distribution, media operations, user habits, different business models, and upstream and downstream industries. What you need are more comprehensive capabilities. It's hard for anyone in the world to know all of this. 

 

Then how do we survive in the ever-changing and evolving world? Firstly, I think we need to have a comprehensive perspective and develop an understanding of the complexity and interrelationship of the issues. To achieve this, we must have an open mind, learn from others, and overcome our blind spots. The second is to cultivate high-level thinking ability, which means constantly reflecting on whether our learning methods and cognitive methods are defective or sufficient. 

 

More and more schools are implementing PBL (Problem Based Learning/Project Based Learning). However, most schools only look at students' knowledge or skills when evaluating courses. There is basically no assessment of how much students enjoy the process of exploring and solving problems. And that should be the essence of PBL. Students who develop a preference for exploring problems and enjoy the process will benefit for a lifetime. Many people's preference for hometown dishes is not natural but nurtured by the environment in their childhood. 

 

Second, it's about our capabilities. 

 

You'll know exactly what's wrong with your body's organs at my age. When I drink alcohol, my stomach hurts, I can't sleep at night, and I'm not in good spirits the next day. In the future, many of our abilities will depend on the virtual world, and technology will become a part of all of us, just like our organs. Are these "organs" vital enough? Do they need exercise? Do they have enough nutrition to function effectively? Are they obsolete? Are they damaged? Do they need surgery? Do they need to be replaced? We need to have the ability to examine, diagnose and treat the "organs" of technology. 

 

Third, it is important to have motivation in addition to cognition and capabilities. Willingness depends on how we see the world and where our happiness comes from. 

 

First, only by embracing change positively will we have a strong motivation. We will face many more setbacks in the future than we do now. Whether one becomes stronger or weaker after a setback depends on whether one has a positive mindset to embrace change and enjoy the process. 

 

Second, we must have the ability to reflect on ourselves. Happiness is built on freedom, freedom is built on the control of life, and control is built on the ability to reflect. We must constantly reflect on how much we rely on technology and the virtual world for the happiness we feel now and what choices we can have when the things we rely on are subverted. 

 

Finally, it is important to pursue the meaning of life. When we have achieved a certain level of success, we should pursue a higher ideal. Lasting happiness must come from pro-social values.

 

I believe that the success of a society should be the success of all ordinary people, not just the elite and influential. 

 

The ultimate question of happiness and freedom: what is "human" and what is "life"

 

But these questions may still be superficial. As we face increasing challenges and need to constantly use technology to strengthen ourselves to keep up with the changes of the times, we will one day be faced with choices that relate to more fundamental questions: what is meant by "human" and what is meant by "life". For example, 

 

Shall we take a medicine that can make us more focused on learning or working but at the same time may weaken our ability to feel the outside world? 

Will you replace your hands, feet, or eyes or implant a chip in your brain to be stronger? 

Will you diminish the ability to feel for the need to be more rational? Will you give up the ability to empathize with others? 

Do you value the achievement of your goals more than you value the feeling of the process? 

As a "stronger" person, are you still willing to tolerate the "sentimental" and "weak" ones who are unwilling to upgrade? 

 

I believe that in the coming decades, every student will continue to encounter such choices. These decisions all depend on how we see humans and see life. 

 

I like the words of the Austrian poet Rilke to a student, who said-- 

Rilke's point is that the future has not yet happened, but everyone's vision of the future together has contributed to the formation of the future. I like today's theme - the future has come. Why say "the future has come "? My understanding is that it has already come to our hearts and that each person's expectations and imagination of the future determine what the future will look like. 

 

As parents and teachers, we do not just pass on knowledge and skills to the next generation. "A gentleman learns from and for his heart". We need to work with young people to explore the actual needs of the heart and the ways people get along with technology. The future depends on our inner understanding of what is "human" and what is "life". 

 

Thank you very much! 

Q&A

 

Host

 

Isabel Hong 

Year 13 student, Yew Chung International School of Hong Kong

 

Cherry Lin

Year 12 student, Yew Chung International School of Hong Kong

 

Jarret Deme

Senior Team Leader, Information and Communication Technology Group, Yew Chung International School of Hong Kong

Director (Education Technology), Yew Chung Yew Wah Education Network Programme 

Isabel: Just now, Mr. Li mentioned some future technology development directions, such as the metaverse. In fact, this concept appeared a long time ago, but people still call 2021 the first year of the metaverse. Why is that? Can you expand on the concept of metaverse a bit more? 

 

Vic: I am not an expert, but I can share some observations. The metaverse is indeed not a new concept. It incorporates developments in human-computer interaction technology, user experience design, Internet of Things, and virtual world ecology. 

 

In addition to technological advances, one important change is the idea of decentralization. Users and enterprises expect to use decentralized technologies and models to solve the problems of unfairness, opacity, and manipulation on the Internet and in the real world. And this has become a major pursuit of the metaverse. People feel that this is something we can contribute to and rely on, so this is a good wish for the world. 

But there are many challenges and games in practice. But I think it's a very grand vision, and it's worth working on together. 

 

Jarret: As a teacher in education technology, I want to ask you about the relationship between education and artificial intelligence. You mentioned earlier in your talk that many people are concerned about whether AI will replace their jobs. And I'm one of those people. I like to look at a website called Will Robots Replace My Job? It's an actual website that will tell you how likely your job will be replaced. Fortunately, I know that the likelihood of me being replaced is very low at present. But I would like to know what you think about our future. Will students be taught by artificial intelligence or robots in the future rather than real people? 

 

Vic: If you ask me what will happen in 20 years or so, I don't have an answer because it depends a lot on what the definition of "human" is at that point. If at that time, the "humans" who need education are still like us, coming out of their mothers' stomachs, I think even if there is a virtual world, education is still necessary. They need to start from a state of chaos, gradually build self-awareness, understand the world, acquire knowledge and skills, learn how to get along with others, and understand what he needs. At the beginning of a long life, it is necessary to learn in real life. 

Of course, some of this learning process may be appropriate to be taught in a brick-and-mortar school, and some can be learned online. But some basic things, like how to deal with people, how to feel, how to find what inspires you, and find meaning and purpose in life, all need to be led by adults. So, in that sense, school is not just about passing on knowledge but about creating an environment where young people can explore and feel, accumulate different experiences, and analyze all the possible options. 

 

But if the "human" at that time is cloned, maybe before they can move freely, they have already mastered much knowledge through chips or other methods. That's a different story, and I really don't know the answer. 

Live Student: I'd like to ask you about NFT non-homogeneous tokens. How will NFT be utilized? I wonder what the rules and order of its transactions in the metaverse would be? 

 

Vic: I think it's hard to predict how it will develop yet. Because an essential component of the metaverse is the system in which the economy works, which is very central. There are a lot of new developments in the system of value and exchange. However, the specifics of how to trade are still very preliminary. 

 

But I think the biggest challenge now is, what is the meaning of the metaverse for each of us now? Without exploring the meaning, it is difficult to attract people to enter, and it will not form the economic scale. If it's not used by ordinary people every day, then it's too early to talk about the trading environment. 

 

But there is still a process that so-called inspiration and pattern keep emerging, and someone must try. There will be people who start a business, and the entrepreneur is not for public welfare. He needs to make money and find a long-term pattern of making money, so he must have control over the system. 

 

In turn, when a user uses these services, he will consider how much control they have, how to make him feel that the system is trustworthy, and whether it is fair. It will be a game process. When the "bad guys" appear, we know what the "good guys" should be like. Now there are not enough "bad guys". When the "bad guys" start to be exposed, maybe we will have the answer. 

 

Live Student: Hello, Mr. Li. I know that the concept of metaverse originated in 1992 with the American novelist Neal Stephenson's science fiction novel "Snow Crash", which describes a virtual urban environment. Netflix's documentary, The Social Dilemma, mentions the addiction to the metaverse Internet and the mode of big data pushing behind it. When Tencent developed the front end of the metaverse and set up the anti-addiction system in the same way as the game on the mainland, have you considered any questions in this regard? And is there any novel analysis and solution in this regard? 

 

Vic: The addiction problem is tough to solve. Because, whether it's a game development company or a person engaged in the metaverse, their appeal must be that they want you to stay as long as possible. Of course, some people may have a sense of social responsibility and want to strike a balance. Still, there will be a debate within any company about where the middle point should be. So, I believe that ultimately, the user's self-reflection is relied upon. 

 

When you have suffered, you may learn to save yourself. So, education is important, and you need to understand what makes you happy and why not? Is what you get online eternal? Even if it's eternal, is that what you seek in your life? It is impossible to give full responsibility to the enterprises that do the metaverse. It requires each of us to know of this. 

 

Live Students: You gave examples from the healthcare industry where AI may be more accurate than a doctor's diagnosis. In terms of the current level of development of artificial intelligence, what types of tasks can AI do better than humans? 

 

Vic: There are a lot of them. One of the great things about artificial intelligence is that it doesn't forget things. The medical example just mentioned why doctors don't do as well as AI because the medical diagnosis has a lot of different rules, thousands of different symptoms, and thousands of different diseases. This combination is just millions of possibilities. People can't remember, but the machine can. It will not have a problem with judgment today because it didn't sleep well yesterday, so that it can do better than people. 

 

AI has advantages in areas where a lot of storage and computing are needed. Still, it lacks the ability to explore the unknown. In other words, it cannot correctly ask questions, and it does not yet know what kind of problems the world needs to solve. The machine is not self-aware, and it cannot judge the value and significance of problems to drive itself to learn or improve its abilities, so it needs people to lead. 

 

However, 30 years later, will there be a person on his deathbed saying, “I hope my will can continue,” so he uploads his thoughts to the cloud so that the robot will continue to carry out his mission after his death. It is another topic, and it is difficult for me to predict. 

 

Online question: Does the pandemic make people rely too much on technology? If so, what is the impact? 

 

Vic: Under the pandemic, many technologies have been put into practice. From this point of view, it is a positive impact. As to the negative, we need to be aware that we're using so much technology that the way people interact has changed. Problems that used to require a meeting to solve may not be needed now. When we want to do something, we used to need to rely on human connection or emotional input, and now we rely more on rational interests. In other words, the relationship between the bricks and concrete that make up this society has changed, and perhaps this building will be built differently in the long run. 

 

The use of technology is now controllable and regulated, so we are not yet overly dependent on it. But the changes in the relationship between people are far more profound and deserve more attention. 

 

Online question: I want to hear from you about your career development. Did you encounter any major difficulties in your career? How did you overcome them? What did you learn from them? 

 

Vic: I've had many difficulties, a lot of life-or-death issues. In summary, many of the difficulties came from self-limitation. 

 

For example, when I gained some experience at work, I started to lead a team. At this point, I realized that I could not handle many things on my own and needed to solve them by working with others. The challenge for me was how to influence and motivate others. 

Later, I found that my problems exceeded my cognitive ability to a certain extent. Other people have become much more professional than me. Then the new challenge becomes, how do I work with more capable people than me? How do I determine that this person is competent? How can I judge whether I can bet my success on this person? When we have different ideas, how can we cooperate? It requires an accumulation of approaches but ultimately comes back to breaking through the limitations of one's cognition and working with others to solve more significant problems. 

 

A person's success depends on the quality of a range of decisions. How do you sustain high-quality decisions? It's actually a question of how to build cognitive abilities. 

 

Jarret: Can you talk about how to distinguish between true and false information? Can AI help us tell the difference? 

 

Vic: Somewhat helpful, at least as your assistant, but not everyone can develop their own programs and control these algorithms. You still need to rely on a third party if you can't do that. This third party's trustworthiness is a problem. Whether the information it provides to you is comprehensive is also a problem. Perhaps the information it provides is correct, but it is not comprehensive. This is also a point that needs attention. So, of course, AI can help, but be aware of who's behind it. 

 

Cherry: Finally, I have a private question. Because I am in 12th grade, and I am worried about my major. The 13th-grade seniors are graduating and are planning their future paths and directions. Do you have any suggestions for those of us who are about to graduate? 

 

 Vic: I just saw a question on the big screen about how to learn more cutting-edge technology. Unfortunately, I don't think that the technology you are learning will be useful in a few years because the iteration of the technology is too fast, and what you are learning will soon be obsolete. It doesn't make much sense for you to spend much energy on it. 

My experience is not to see what you can learn from study and work but to see how much you can be exposed to the forefront and important issues through such opportunities. Learning must always start with practical problems; then, your progress will be fast. 

 

Many people appreciate the MIT learning mode, and if you were there to learn to program, nobody would teach you this or that command. It is self-directed learning driven by real-world problems. For example, how do we combine computers and biochemistry when using AI to make drugs? At the forefront, what are the problems to be solved? Who has done what? The rest, you explore on your own. What to learn, what not to learn, or whom to work with are all your business. How to learn, everyone has a different path. 

The hardest part is not learning how to solve problems but determining what problems are worth solving and can be solved. There are too many ways to learn for this generation, and the most important thing is to have access to more real-world problems that need to be solved and drive your learning by problems. 

 

Knowledge itself is dead, and problems are alive. When you focus on the problem itself, you pay attention to what problems it is related to. You always have sensitivity to the problem, and you always have the drive to find the opportunity to contribute. I think that means more. 

It is a profound sharing that reflects reality and inspires the future. For our students, it may open a new door, and a series of related questions, inspirations, interests, and dreams are brewing in children's minds. 

 

Let us again express our sincere gratitude to Mr. Vic Lee. May our students find the critical questions in their hearts and do their utmost to explore, solve, and pursue the meaning of their own life.