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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Portable AI Will be a Game Changer: Roland Berger CEO’s CEIBS Master Class

~ No more Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Google, Uber, Mobike in 10 years

May 14, 2018. Shanghai – In Roland Berger CEO Charles-Edouard Bouée’s vision of the not-too distant future, we will take back control of our lives by controlling our data, cutting out middle men such as platforms (Uber, Airbnb, Mobike) and digital leaders (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) and there will be no need for advertising. This will all be made possible with artificial intelligence (AI); not the version we know today which he believes is mostly a lot of irrelevant data, but AI that will curate and provide information specific to the needs of individuals. It’s called portable AI. We can take it anywhere with us: in our homes, on our mobile phones, even in a pin on our lapel.

He also believes the next big player in AI – expected to be a US$200 billion industry within the next 10 years – will come from China or Europe and it will not be any of the players whose names are widely known today. This will mean severe disruption for existing traditional companies (digital leaders, start-ups, IT companies, and platforms). “Most of them will disappear in the next 10 years because of the rise of AI,” Bouée told the audience in a packed auditorium on CEIBS Shanghai Campus that turned out this evening to hear his Master Class. His topic was “Own the Future with Artificial Intelligence”, and Bouée did not disappoint. Halfway through his speech he had many in the audience of CEIBS students, faculty and members of the public with an interest in AI, wondering if they were learning or teaching the right material – or if their companies would still exist in the next decade. “It’s not in the interest of the current players to provide portable AI because it disrupts their business,” he said. “Today we don't have control because these players are maximising their profit. The day you get portable AI is the day you take back control of your life.”

Bouée explained that in the future, AI would simply be a commodity, like electricity, widely available. Of course there would be different levels of availability but it would be a commodity at the basic level. Individuals would have private clouds of information, not just mounds of data curated by others who have a vested interest in what information they should see first. In this future, AI will protect our privacy, book our vacations based on our preferences and not the comments/ratings of others. It will be each individual users’ personal “trusted advisor” not a branded product offered by any of the existing players.

He added that there will be new business models that emerge from a world with portable AI, and he urged his audience to visualise what comes next and act quickly as this would be the only way to own their future. “There are implications for everyone. We have never been able to stop technology, good or bad,” he said. “We will have AI, we have to make the best use of it. There are a lot of opportunities for all of you if you see the future.”

In the dialogue that followed with CEIBS Vice President and Dean Professor Ding Yuan, they explored issues including the dark side of AI – what happens if machines achieve a certain level of awareness, AI as a potential cyber weapon, the potential for job losses, and the business model on which portable AI would be based. Bouée believes if machines get to a stage where they are concerned about self-preservation, there can be positives. They would want to protect their source of power, electricity (which would also be beneficial for humans), they would want to protect themselves from the elements and this would mean protecting the environment (also a plus for humans). In terms of job losses he spoke of the need to be prepared to ensure that there is a smooth transition. And on the issue of the potential use of AI as a cyber weapon, he believes that it is “likely that in the next 20 years there will be an official organisation to monitor and track AI, otherwise a high risk is there.” As for the business model, Bouée explained that portable AI would be provided on a multi-fee basis with add-on apps for shopping, financial services, etc.

He also fielded questions from the audience, most of them focused on practical application of AI to specific industries or scenarios. In response to a question about whether portable AI would mean there is no room for new products and small businesses, Bouée said it was just the opposite. “The world is less exciting today because we don't choose anymore (choices are made for us). Tomorrow we will be able to choose again,” he said.

After his lecture, Dean Ding presented the Roland Berger CEO with a letter of appointment to CEIBS International Advisory Board (IAB). The IAB is made up of the Chairmen and CEOs of more than 20 major international and Chinese based companies who advise CEIBS Presidents and Deans on the school's strategy, teaching programmes and research agenda, and support the school in its quest for global impact and recognition.

Bouée’s Master Class is the latest in a series of lectures aimed at providing practical knowledge to the CEIBS community and the wider society. It is also part of the CEIBS Insights 2018 Project which highlights the role CEIBS has played and continues to play as a role model of effective China-EU Co-operation. Roland Berger is the only leading consulting firm of European origin and the Chinese market – where it has five offices with almost 400 consultants – is key to the company’s international presence. Events like today’s Master Class are in line with CEIBS’ goal of fulfilling its role as a platform to further enhance China-EU communication and cooperation, both in business and culture, along with providing a window of China's reform and opening up in the education sector.  

Charmaine N. Clarke