President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Gref, friends,
As Mr Gref said, we have schoolchildren in the hall. But representatives of the adult audience, professionals are also watching and listening to us and will take part in our meeting. So, I would like to say to our boys and girls: if something seems a bit boring, please forgive me in advance but I must talk to all the participants in our meeting.
I will start with general things.
Artificial intelligence technology has truly become part of our lives. Today, it is a field that attracts talented, creative people that are ready to dream big and work toward their goals. It is the cutting edge of science and engineering. It is very important to make sure that these breakthroughs opening up truly limitless opportunities do not harm but help people, help save our planet and ensure its sustainable development.
I am hoping we will certainly discuss all these issues at Sber’s international conference that has already become, to quote Mr Gref, one of the main global venues for discussing artificial intelligence.
I am very glad that schoolchildren and students from Russia and other countries are taking part in our discussion today. You are already creating a new technological world. You are doing this with your hands and your heads. You are offering interesting solutions – I will be pleased to see the projects that you presented at Sber’s contest.
But first I would like to congratulate you, Mr Gref, and thousands of your employees, on an important anniversary. Savings banks were established on November 12, 1841. This is where Sber’s history begins. Over 180 years, Sber has always been and, I am sure, will remain a truly people’s bank, a financial institution that is critical to our country’s economy. Suffice it to say that Sber has over 100 million clients.
While successfully carrying out its main mission, you are actively and, most important, sincerely and enthusiastically advancing the ideas of technical progress. Using ground-breaking solutions, you are trying to adapt Sber’s entire ecosystem to serve people, providing an example of the major changes that are taking place around the world.
A completely different paradigm for how companies, businesses and whole industries operate is taking shape literally before our eyes. The goal is not just to put a new product onto the market or build effective production or business models. The main thing is to aim all work toward the interests and needs of individual customers. Let me repeat, it is not a commodity or service but people that play the central role in all economic processes. This transformation is affecting not only the economy but also the social sphere and government administration. Of course, Big Data and artificial intelligence are playing a key role in this respect.
The winners in today’s world are those who are making better use of the powerful technological potential in the interests of people and their prosperity. They are winning the global competition. We, that is, Russia must certainly be among the leaders in this regard.
Our companies, including Sber, are developing and introducing unique solutions in healthcare and education, environmental protection and agriculture, industry and transport. We have to accelerate the digital transformation across the board and as soon as possible move from isolated experiments and pilot initiatives to end-to-end projects with AI applications, primarily in areas that determine quality of life. In a word, we have to make the technologies of the future accessible right now and see that they serve all the country’s citizens and our national development goals. This is the mission of the state, scientists, engineers and innovative businesses.
We need to carefully analyse our development plans for industry, the social sphere, transport, communications and telecommunications. The plans must be aligned and closely coordinated with sectoral and regional strategies for the introduction of artificial intelligence and, of course, with the progress of our entire development agenda.
Indeed, what is the use of the technologies of the future if a certain town or settlement still has low quality communications or lacks internet altogether (this is, regretfully, still a reality, and while cases are hard to find, they do exist), or if a medical worker, teacher or agronomist does not have the necessary equipment and skills to use it?
I think it is extremely important – and I want to draw the Russian Government’s attention to it – to launch a training programme for sectoral specialists without delay to provide them with a working knowledge of artificial intelligence. It has to be done now.
Let me remind you that at our last meeting a year ago we agreed to help businesses conduct technological upgrades and to offer tax incentives to companies and organisations which purchase domestic software, computers and telecommunication devices.
Unfortunately, these and other decisions have not been made yet, they are still, in officialese, “being coordinated” or as bureaucrats say, “pending.” The process has clearly been protracted, and we will discuss this topic in more detail with our colleagues, but I must stress that we will not resolve the issues of rapid technological development with such slow tempos.
Let me reiterate. Technologies are developing exponentially, with colossal, explosive speed, right before our eyes. Not long ago it would have all seemed straight out of science fiction. But now Russian automobile plants, our automotive industry is still moving forward in the face of fairly tough competition. Vehicles are being designed which can drive in low visibility, in a snowstorm, on the snow, and they do it not just on the testing grounds but in real life. The Yandex company is set to launch the first driverless taxi service in Moscow, albeit in test mode. I saw it for myself, and I have to say it is impressive.
We need to remove as swiftly as possible all excessive barriers to designing and introducing advanced solutions including in AI, to form a regulatory and legal environment which corresponds to the level of the technological progress.
However, there are other aspects to consider – who is to be liable for damages if, for instance, a driverless car causes a traffic accident, and cases have already been reported in the world that left authorities unsure of how to proceed. That gives way to questions of how to insure the actions, and in some cases inaction, of robots and AI algorithms.
I would like to ask the Government to adjust, in cooperation with the professional community, these and other legal aspects of introducing advanced technical solutions under experimental legal regimes. In part, it is necessary to provide guarantees for protecting the intellectual property of achievements in artificial intelligence. This is not a problem for the future. It is already becoming increasingly urgent.
Now I would like to say a few words about access to the data without which it is impossible to develop many types of digital technology. We are well aware of this and have spoken about it more than once. I believe at least two fundamental principles must be at work here.
First, it is necessary to have effective mechanisms for the anonymisation and storage of data and maximally clear, understandable rules for providing this anonymous information, as well as firm guarantees for protecting the rights and interests of people, including their private life.
Second, in current conditions any attempt to establish a monopoly on data limits free competition and economic development. In this context, I would like to ask you to adopt as soon as possible legal decisions to ensure access of Russian experts on artificial intelligence, research organisations and businesses to the state’s anonymised data bases, especially since ministries and departments have already compiled such data sets, to use professional slang.
As a next step, I would like the Government and the Bank of Russia to consider the possibility of providing similar access to anonymised data bases from the largest domestic companies, paying special attention, of course, to the safety of personal information.
There are many intricate legal and ethical nuances. Why should personal data belong not to an individual but to commercial or financial organisations from which he receives different services? This is a big question because, unfortunately, this is what is happening now in real life. If an individual has the full right to do what he wants with his personal information, he will be able to give it to another company or bank. With this information, they will be able to offer better products to their new client, for instance, a reduced interest loan.
I will emphasise that it is necessary to take a very careful and balanced approach to all these issues, considering all aspects of work with databases. Naturally, any action can only be taken with the consent of the individual.
A special decision should be made regarding information critical for citizens’ security. This concerns primarily biometric data, which are increasingly used for financial and other transactions, including for paying fares, say, in the metro as in Moscow nowadays. I think that such highly personal information must be stored in the unified state system of biometric identification, which means the state must take responsibility for storing it yet ensure free access to it for banks and other organisations, but in a fully encrypted form, which rules out any external interference and open access to one’s personal data.
The issues of protecting personal data and digital payments and countering hidden manipulation of citizens’ preferences and actions are increasingly coming to the fore. Now it concerns not only ensuring the cybersecurity of a person but also that of their virtual double – the avatar that will live within the metaverses being established now. Their designers promise that by using these virtual worlds a person will be able to traverse space without leaving their home. I know that even those present here are dealing with these issues. All that will definitely help people to be close to other people who may even live on a different continent.
Let me remind you that the term “metaverse” was coined by a famous sci-fi writer three decades ago. According to him, people were fleeing and really found refuge there from the imperfections of the real world. However, such an approach would be too pessimistic for us today; I think we should never take this route. On the contrary, we must use the metaverse opportunities for people to be able to mix, co-work, co-study and pursue joint creative and business projects regardless of the distances between them, no matter how big.
This is a true challenge for technology companies, creative industries, for the makers of virtual and mixed reality devices. And also for lawyers who have to work out regulations for economic and public relations in a fundamentally new world, this is undoubtedly a challenge as well. Overall, the creation and application of AI technologies for the sake of society, humankind, for the preservation of our planet, for studying the world ocean and outer space – these are all truly civilisational challenges and absolutely sweeping. We can and should resolve them only by joining our efforts.
I would like to use the platform of your conference to invite everyone to participate in open, large-scale cooperation. And, of course, I would like to ask the Government of Russia to create opportunities for our compatriots and foreign engineers, software developers, scientists and teachers to take part, in a convenient online format or some other format, in joint projects carried out in Russia, primarily in science and education.
We are launching advanced technology academic programmes in our universities and creating artificial intelligence competence centres at our leading universities and research institutions. Their work will be an important step towards creating a system of interdisciplinary research incorporating both the natural sciences and the humanities, which is indispensable for developing strong artificial intelligence. Specialists say that it will learn and develop by itself, resolving the most difficult tasks in conditions of uncertainty. In fact, our audience today knows all about this.
I would like to repeat that we have ambitious plans for developing the educational and digital space for schoolchildren and students and we are very interested in this. Everything is important.
That said we all understand well that people are achieving breakthroughs and putting them to use. Paradoxical though it may seem, to be leaders in artificial intelligence what is needed is a humane environment like in a family where parents pass on important moral values to their children and, of course, at school. This is where children should acquire the “soft” skills that their parents and grandparents developed while playing with their peers, learning to make friends and help each other, overcome setbacks, form close-knit teams and invent all kinds of games and plans, or, as they say now, joint projects.
I hope we will discuss today all these complex issues – the technological, moral and ethical aspects of artificial intelligence. Naturally, I am primarily addressing the audience in this hall.
Thank you very much for your attention.