Alibaba's Artificial Intelligence Successfully Predicts Winners of Chinese Reality Show

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Alibaba Group Executive Chairman, Jack Ma

Always one for showmanship, Jack Ma's e-commerce company unveiled its cutting-edge artificial intelligence program during the final episode of "I Am Singer," one of the most popular TV shows in China.

The real winner of China's wildly popular reality TV show I Am Singer wasn't one of the contestants — it wasn't even human.

Instead, what captured viewers' attention most was Alibaba Group's artificial intelligence program, which made its global debut on the program to predict the series finalists and winner. Named "Ai," the system got every one of its algorithm-induced guesses right.

I Am Singer, broadcast by Hunan TV, has been one of China's top-rated shows since its debut in 2013. During the show's four-hour season finale on Friday, Alibaba's Ai analyzed various factors in real time, such as the popularity of the songs contestants performed, their pitch and energy onstage, lyrical content and audience feedback. Meanwhile, the show's in-house audience of 500, whose vote determined the real winner, deliberated separately.

Famous for their flair for promotion, Alibaba Group arranged for Ai's predictions to be featured prominently during key moments of the live broadcast.

Chinese-American singer Coco Lee was crowned the champion — by both man and machine — for her rendition of "A Love Before Time," a ballad from Ang Lee's Oscar-nominated martial arts action-drama Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Coco Lee performed the song during the 2001 Oscars ceremony, and she wore her original Oscars gown again for Friday's show.

"We are very pleased with the Ai's performance in achieving 100 percent accuracy," said Dr. Wanli Min, chief scientist for artificial intelligence at Alibaba Cloud, the company's cloud computing division, in a statement to THR. "The results demonstrated that Ai is making significant progress to understand human emotions and how people make decisions. It is uncharted waters, and we have huge aspirations to apply this Ai capability to bring benefits to more people."

Alibaba's Ai often has been compared to Google’s AlphaGo, which recently made headlines by crushing the world champion of Go, a notoriously difficult ancient Chinese boardgame. But Alibaba says Google's system is different, since it is a tactical intelligence that follows a strict set of rules, whereas Ai had to work within far looser constraints.

"Unlike AlphaGo, which follows very strict rules, there are no ground rules with music and art," Dr. Min told The Wall Street Journal's China Real Time. "We had to train Ai to understand emotion and music," he added.

Alibaba has deployed Ai internally to assist with customer service and traffic patterns predictions for its flagship e-commerce business. Friday was the first time the program was unveiled in public, let alone on live national television. Alibaba says it is exploring a range of additional applications for Ai, including weather forecasts, smart-home climate control and city infrastructure management.
 

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