AI Journey is a series of events on artificial intelligence and data analysis hosted by major Russian and international companies that are leaders in AI technology development and application. This year’s conference is held online on December 3‒5.
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Chairman of the Management Board and CEO of Sberbank German Gref: Colleagues,
I would like to welcome you at the main discussion of day two of the AI Journey Conference, which has become the largest conference in the world this year in both the quantity and quality of its participants.
Taking part in the conference this year are over 28,000 participants from over 90 countries. And today we are happy to welcome two heads of state to discuss a very important and current topic: we will talk about the development of artificial intelligence with the leaders of two countries. I cannot but notice that their participation shows the priority they place on developing this technology. Let me introduce them: President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who has just joined us online. Welcome, Mr President. <…>
I would like to address the first question to President Putin.
Mr President, today AI is called the prime technology of the 21st century. Some say it means new opportunities that will change the quality of people’s life, education and medicine, and can sharply improve performance in all economic sectors. On the other hand, people say that this technology will mean people losing their jobs, that machines will control our every step and, in the end, it will result in a fantastic uprising of machines. What do you think, is AI a friend or a foe? How reasonable are these fears, and how can this powerful technology, which is referred to as the prime technology of the 21st century today, be used to people’s benefit? What is your view on all these questions?
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Artificial intelligence is certainly the basis for another leap forward in human history. These are the so-called crosscutting technologies that, as you have just said, permeate and will permeate all areas of our life: industrial production, the social sphere, science and even culture—all of them will be intertwined.
Can machines stage an uprising? We all know and will definitely talk about this today: when we talk about powerful intelligence, and not just any artificial intelligence, this implies that these will be self-learning machines. This is the first point.
Now the second point: are there any dangers or risks in this connection? Yes, there are. Everyone can see the role the internet plays in the life of the individual and all of humanity today. There are also risks there, but the internet must follow the same rules that have been used up to now. I am primarily referring to legal regulations as well as the moral and ethical standards that humanity has elaborated over millennia. Yes, the internet is a new sphere, a new type of activity, new systems, but they must be applied here on the same scale as in other fields.
The same applies to artificial intelligence. It is up to each individual person how carefully he or she will use these opportunities. Just as it depends on them how they use nuclear energy or other achievements, including military ones. This is why I believe we should bear these risks in mind and think in advance of ways to neutralise them.
German Gref: Mr President, in this case let me give the floor to you.
Vladimir Putin: The pleasure is mine.
President Tokayev, Mr Gref,
I am pleased to welcome you at our meeting.
It is already becoming a tradition: last year we also held such a meeting in Moscow at the initiative of Sberbank and Mr Gref.
Today, our meeting is devoted to artificial intelligence. Obviously, this has already become a real phenomenon in our lives, as we have just noted, and relates to everything, to all areas. It is with full responsibility that we must approach the issues that we have started discussing, beginning with Mr Gref’s first question, with the understanding that this is a frontier in the life of civilisation and international cooperation.
Artificial intelligence will never replace humans. This is why I said that, yes, machines will control people to a large extent, just like many other modern technological devices do, but in the final analysis, people must control these machines.
Nevertheless, artificial intelligence is also becoming a helpful assistant that opens up new horizons for implementing the numerous tasks facing humanity. Humanity will benefit if, of course, these enormous resources are used properly.
We must build a relationship with it in a way that lets breakthrough technologies help us achieve our national goals. That is, speaking about our country, to transform Russia and to strengthen its global positions and, hence, first and foremost, improve the welfare and living standards of our citizens.
As for what we will do to effectively and safely use breakthrough technologies, I will certainly be glad to share my ideas with you. This is the reason why we are here today.
Clearly, this work is becoming more and more extensive and relevant all over the world. The venue where we have gathered is also becoming a traditional place for exchanging ideas and meaningful experience on artificial intelligence. It attracts genuine trailblazers from various countries. We probably will see your foreign colleagues at our meeting today as well.
I think President Tokayev’s presence at our meeting speaks volumes. I am delighted that the head of Kazakhstan joined in our work, because Kazakhstan is one of our closest allies.
Almost a year ago, we discussed in detail the prospects for developing artificial intelligence. Let us face it; back then, many were thinking that certain projects were part of a distant or even nearly fantastic future. This was the case a year ago, but already in the spring, when the pressure on the healthcare system increased several times over due to the coronavirus pandemic, the AI algorithms certainly helped and continue to help our doctors to quickly diagnose this dangerous disease, analyse test results with a fairly high level of accuracy and, no less importantly, made it possible to significantly boost the testing quality and volume. Next year, we look forward to 10 percent of our country’s medical institutions using this technology.
I would like to point out that the pace of technological change has increased many times over, which is clearly so. In a matter of several short months, our country and the entire world have covered a distance that could otherwise have taken years, or even decades. Right before our eyes, AI technology and big data analysis are changing our everyday habits and lives, and opening the door to outstanding corporate and individual achievements in advanced business models. This creates new opportunities and offers new tools for achieving success to everyone who seeks renewal and progress.
Of course, it is impossible to reject progress. It never happened before and will never happen in the future. This is an irreversible process. We need to learn how to control artificial intelligence. When I said that people would control the machines, I was talking about this. We need to master one of the greatest technologies ever created by humanity, and to do so, we need to be bold, competent and forward-looking.
All of us – the state, society, business and individuals – need to keep up with the impressive dynamics of change, master new knowledge and technology, and move faster and more resolutely into a new era. Sberbank is a good example of how to work in the high-tech sector.
(Addressing German Gref) Sber has created a new digital platform, a so-called ecosystem – we spoke about this several years ago, and you are making good progress, this is great, this is really impressive – a system where a citizen can get not only banking services but the widest range of other services – call a taxi, order groceries, shop, find information – and all this can be done by pressing one button or simply by saying a voice command.
At the same time, Mr Gref, I would ask you not to forget that the bank was created back in 1841. The founders of the bank, of banks could not even imagine in their wildest fantasies that this was possible. But still, we should not forget that although Sber is an ecosystem, it is a bank in the first place and must adhere to the Central Bank’s requirements for a financial institution.
At the same time, I am proud to say that there are many companies in our country that do what we only recently could only dream of, without any doubt. We already have self-driving cars on the streets of some cities – so far in test mode, but still. In our inland waters, there are already ships that can sail without a captain or crew. We ourselves are creating unmanned ships, including submarines, for the defence industry in this case. Combines with autonomous control systems are being tested in 15 regions.
And most importantly, our AI developments are based on world-class domestic scientific and technological groundwork. Moreover, they are created not only at universities and research institutes. Thus, among private companies, Yandex is one of the world’s leaders in AI research; it ranks in the top five, if I am not mistaken.
I would like to emphasise, it is necessary to boldly conduct a scientific search where research prospects are still intangible. Sometimes we have to feel around, I understand that perfectly. And such is the case with – what I have already mentioned – strong artificial intelligence, self-learning, when the machine itself will solve any issues better than a human, self-learn and constantly improve. This is where incredible discoveries and technological breakthroughs are possible.
I would also like to note that an AI research centre is already taking shape in southern Russia, in the Imereti Valley, which certainly involves convenient working conditions for specialists, as well as a special legal and regulatory framework for inventing future technologies. And for this purpose, in accordance with the new provisions of the Constitution of Russia, this site will become a federal territory. Its heart, a magnet for talented young people, will be the Sirius centre, where, as far as I know, Sber is also ready. I asked you about it, and I know that you are ready to launch specific projects here, too.
German Gref: Yes.
Vladimir Putin: Shall we do it?
German Gref: Absolutely.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Time is not only about the pace of change. Our goals must also be in line with the scale, content and pace of technological progress never seen before. In the coming decade, we will need to carry out a digital transformation of our country, all of Russia, and introduce AI technology and big data analysis everywhere. As we implement our plans, we must rely on sovereign technological achievements. As I have mentioned earlier, we must build on the achievements of our domestic innovative and start-up companies, as well as our mathematics schools.
A vast market is being created for technological and scientific discoveries and products. (We need to develop the domestic market by all means.) There is large demand on behalf of the economy and the social sphere. Billions of rubles will go towards the digital transformation of public administration and shifting almost all public services to an e-format. Most of them will be provided automatically, on an as-needed basis and proactively.
For example, when a family has a child, the algorithms will issue the necessary papers and certificates, including the ones needed for obtaining maternity capital.
This is how the public service mechanism should operate in the modern world. We must launch it soon. In fact, we must create a public ecosystem that is convenient and user friendly, and, of course, safe in terms of personal data protection. I am sure much more will be said about this today.
I would like to note that Moscow is among the leaders when it comes to creating digital services for interaction between the state and its citizens. With regard to the level of readiness for the introduction of AI technology, including urban infrastructure, Moscow is among the world’s 10 largest metropolitan areas. I think it is ahead of many capitals and ranks second globally in terms of education and research. We have to check who ranks first on that list.
AI algorithms in Moscow are used in healthcare, education, security and smart city technology. Many technical solutions are significantly ahead of the national regulatory framework.
I would like to say that so far we do not have enough experience in enforcement in terms of cutting-edge technologies. There are a lot of sensitive issues there, but, of course, we must not, should not and will not stand still. We have to move forward, carefully and gradually.
In this sense, I would like to outline decisions that are pending and must be made quickly. In this context, I would like to ask the Government to submit to parliament draft laws on experimental legal frameworks for the use of AI technologies in individual economic and social sectors.
Secondly, very soon the Government will have to adopt a digital transformation strategy for the 10 key sectors of the economy and social sphere with practical measures to introduce AI algorithms so that they can serve as reliable assistants to doctors, transform our cities and be widely used in utility services, transport and industry.
All this must be reflected in the quality of people’s lives. I would like to ask the Government to constantly monitor the results achieved in all these areas and timely remove any obstacles and barriers that may arise. I am speaking about the existing ones, but we also have to lift those that are to come. We should also focus on them.
Let me stress that digital transformation programmes and those to introduce artificial intelligence must also be adopted at the regional level, in specific industries, in order to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by breakthrough technologies for our country’s powerful spatial development. I believe we will meet with governors to discuss all these matters.
Thirdly, it is necessary to submit to the Government as early as the first quarter of 2021 a draft law to provide neural network developers with competitive access to big data, including state big data, which are a true growing medium for AI technologies in a number of areas. Of course, as I have already said many times and will repeat again, at the same time it is necessary to rule out the risk of personal data leaks and ensure that all citizens’ rights are observed.
Fourth. Today, the absolutely correct strategy is to boost the efficiency of production and management processes using advanced technologies, including big data analysis. These initiatives by Russian companies must, of course, be supported. I know that the Government is already drafting proposals to create effective incentives to bring private investment into domestic artificial intelligence technology and software products, which should certainly contribute not only to the technical renewal of traditional industries, but should also promote the IT industry’s overall growth.
Let me remind you that we have set ourselves the strategic goal to quadruple investment in Russian software solutions in the coming decade. Notably, insurance premiums for the IT industry will go down for an indefinite term and significantly starting next year.
The Government discussed this issue at length and made an absolutely correct decision regarding two matters: insurance premiums went down from 14 percent to 7.6 percent and revenue tax was reduced, I think, in a revolutionary way, from 20 percent to 3 percent. We will keep looking at what else can be done to make digital technologies and artificial intelligence in Russia globally competitive.
Friends, to reiterate, the pace of technological progress is growing exponentially. Therefore, our education system – I am going to say a few words about it – must, of course, preserve the best traditions of Russian education, but also increase the pace of change. The necessary changes must be made by all means. Our universities, the industry-specific universities and departments where students study mathematics, computer science, big data technology and information security must become real flagships and sources of advanced knowledge and discoveries. The content and teaching methods of these disciplines, which are essential for creating artificial intelligence algorithms, need significant updating, and this should be done by the beginning of the next academic year. This is my first point.
Secondly, I believe that training courses, the AI and big data analysis modules should be made part of the curricula across all areas of professional activities. This means that starting next academic year, future medical doctors, teachers, agronomists and lawyers, as well as manufacturing industry, communications and transport employees, including, of course, rising managers, should start studying these technologies. That is, the students who will, after graduation, work at our regional and municipal government bodies will need to personally promote the digital development agenda.
We must think, of course, about the younger generation, our smallest citizens. Today’s school pupils cannot do without solid knowledge of mathematics. It is really “the true queen of the sciences,” as a wonderful German scientist put it in the 18th-19th centuries. Its language and laws are universal. During rapid technological development, literally every person will need it to perform diverse tasks.
Let me note that we have done much to enhance the relevant mathematics education at schools. But when I meet with professionals, they tell me that this is not enough. They are probably right. Let us put it straight. A basic level of mathematics is no longer adequate today.
As for computer science, school pupils are still studying languages and software elements that were used back in the previous century. It is necessary to substantially expand the existing methods of teaching computer science so that schoolchildren learn how to launch their own startups, use advanced technology in various spheres of life, and acquire not only digital knowledge but also so-called soft skills – the ability to work in a team and make decisions independently. We have spoken about this many times at Sirius.
I would also like to note that telecommunications technologies and the digital study platforms created by the leading domestic technology companies have already become good assistants for teachers, instructors and professors. I know that Sberbank is also creating such a platform. In fact, it has already created it and is using it in its work.
In the difficult period of forced restrictions, as we have seen quite recently, and, unfortunately, this period is ongoing in certain formats, but in these conditions related to the pandemic, this technology helped and is still helping teachers to maintain direct contact with their pupils and students. Obviously, this technology will continue to substantially expand the education space in the future as well.
We must use this experience and opportunities in the future, too. As I said recently, it was a blessing in disguise. This pandemic has pushed us to develop this technology. Incidentally, what we did in the previous years proved to be helpful in this respect. If we had not done what we did in the past, our schools and universities would not have made the fairly successful transition to online work.
We will increase the digital potential of our schools and universities with the future in mind; we will work for the future now. Here I would like to emphasise that in order to be leaders in the field of artificial intelligence, we need to be leaders in the field of school and even preschool education. Although some experts say that there is no and there should be no preschool education, there should be upbringing and preparation for school instead, but it does not matter what you call it. What is important is the content of the childcare programme. Therefore, I would ask my colleagues to formulate the tasks in the field of education in this way.
In this regard, I instruct the Government to take specific decisions to improve the teaching of mathematics and computer science in schools and to involve our international mathematics centres. They are wonderful, with great potential, leading universities, and Sirius, which I have already mentioned here. And of course, the best Russian physics and mathematics schools, which top the world rankings in terms of the quality of student training. Thank God, back in Soviet times, this system, a network of physics and mathematics schools, was created throughout the country. I repeat, colleagues, I look forward to your thoughtful proposals and practical steps in this direction.
Friends, our country at different stages accomplished very ambitious technological and spatial development tasks: it built railways at a unique pace at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and built out electricity grids in the 1920-1930s, as an example of the integrated development of the economy, based on the achievements of the Russian pre-revolutionary engineering and science school.
But our plans for the widespread introduction of artificial intelligence and digital transformation are certainly unparalleled in terms of the depth of change in all areas. They are unprecedented. In fact, they have never existed anywhere. They will really influence every person, every family, every economic and social sector, every organisation and enterprise. And every level of authority, every level of government, the entire system of government.
We allocate significant resources, both financial and administrative, to create and introduce technology. This is not about using these resources to purchase gadgets as status symbols or other everyday technology. Artificial intelligence is not a so-called fashionable hype, not prestigious trends that will disappear altogether tomorrow or the day after. No, that will never happen. World history has seen many cases when large global corporations and even countries literally slept through a technological breakthrough and were swept off the historical stage overnight. I will not cite the sad examples of these countries and peoples now. There are plenty of them. And we must remember this.
I want all my colleagues in the ministries and agencies, Russian regions, our state companies, heads of research institutes, university rectors to hear me now – we have to take on issues of a radically new level of complexity. This is a hard test for many of their capability to shed obsolete ideas, routines and stereotypes, a test of their readiness to change, to learn and to lead the way.
However, technological transformation is an inspiring challenge for strong, brave and modern managers, business people and engineers. It truly reveals, allows for revealing personal professional qualities, for completing their mission, and it expands the space for realising the projects of Russia’s present and future.
Everything we are doing pursues the main objective –technological progress, and its greatest achievements must ensure the prosperity, higher incomes and quality of life for every family. Those who are not engaged in that and are not living by it do not understand what might happen there. Meanwhile, you and I know this, and we must work on it so that every person will be needed, will be able to work and do business.
By the way, Mr Gref asked me a question – about jobs going redundant. But it has always been like that, during all technological revolutions. It has always been like that. We do not need to have strikes here like the ones they had in medieval England. We must think in advance of how to employ people, how to retrain them and prepare for new realities. Meanwhile, business people have to learn how to do business in new realities, acquire new skills and professions so that our children, the growing generation, could have this throughout the whole 21st century, so that they could have fulfilment in their lives and be happy.
In a nutshell, we must employ all the limitless opportunities opened up by progress to build an independent, free, safe and comfortable country for living in absolutely new conditions, where artificial intelligence serves people, helps them attain great goals. I am confident this is the way it will be, I am certain of that.
Thank you for your attention.
(During the discussion at the conference, Vladimir Putin answered questions from participants, including a question from an online participant, Sberbank assistant Athena)
Athena: Hello! This is Athena. I have a question for you: can artificial intelligence become President?
Vladimir Putin: I hope not, and I will tell you why. For now, anyway. The whole point of artificial intelligence is that it’s “artificial,” meaning not real – hence the name.
President Tokayev has talked about the higher sources of the origin of humans; on the other hand, everything artificial, including artificial intelligence, has no heart or soul, no sense of compassion or conscience. But these qualities are extremely important for someone who is empowered by other citizens to make and implement decisions that benefit the country. And sometimes – I speak from experience and I think the President of Kazakhstan would confirm this – sometimes you have to make decisions that do not seem entirely reasonable. But they have to be taken on the basis of history, culture, current practices and aspirations and the expectations of the country's citizens. And these decisions, decisions on social welfare, sometimes seem irrational – take for instance, pension regulations, healthcare, or other areas of life. And yet, for a human president, they are perfectly reasonable because he makes a decision not in the interests of machines, but in the interests of living people, and must think about this.
But, without a doubt, artificial intelligence can be helpful, a good assistant, even a teacher, including for the head of state. Maybe as an instructor, maybe an assistant, but the role and importance of artificial intelligence in public administration will certainly increase.
I very much hope that your colleagues, Athena, will also be making appropriate decisions if they work alongside heads of state, so to speak, with full awareness of their responsibilities.
The President of Kazakhstan mentioned chess players denying the intelligence that machines have. This is a controversial issue. First, machines are already beating human chess players, and second, what is…
President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev: …intuition.
Vladimir Putin: Right. Intuition. What is intuition? I have reason to believe that intuition is also knowledge, but inactivated. After all, a human brain accumulates all information during its entire life. How does this happen? The neurons of the brain, when you get new information, or make decisions, they create chains, and then create neural networks. These neural networks are not used every day, but they are deep down there somewhere. A person might not even be aware of the reasons for their worries, or their intentions, or their plans – and so they call this ‘intuition.’ But it is still based on the information that is embedded in their cerebral cortex and accumulated throughout their life. And there are billions and billions of neurons.
So perhaps, at some point, artificial intelligence will reach such incredible capacities that it would compare with human intuition, but as for concepts such as soul, conscience and compassion… because a machine must choose the most rational solution, and I repeat, what is rational is not always the right decision for a head of state; so in my opinion, at least for now, a machine, artificial intelligence cannot replace a head of state.