Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS)



John Chen, Noted Innovator, Entrepreneur, Founder WikiOmni and Word4App

This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with John Chen.

John ChenJiang (John) Chen is the founder of WikiOmni and Word4App. He has a master’s degree in international trade from Eastern Michigan University, USA and a master’s degree in Christian Studies from Southern Methodist University, USA. John is a Former researcher in the Guangdong Branch of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He helped China Eastern Communication (listed company) found US subsidiary, and served as the first CEO. In addition to these John is also a former reporter and editor working in several different media.


Q: John, thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.

A:  "Thank you Stephen. It is my honor to talk with you today. I have enjoyed a very interesting life so far and I am happy to share my story and my strong belief in the power of AI to enable a better way forward for all humanity with your audience."

  Before we get into your participation at the inaugural AI summit, co-organized by the United Nations Agency ITU and XPRIZE Foundation, let's mine details of your life journey.

Q: Describe milestones in your life from the age of 6?

A:  "Because of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, all schools closed in mainland China. I no longer had the opportunity to go to school and realize my life dream of "arming my brain with the knowledge of all mankind." So, I stayed alone in a 40 square foot small room and I spent 16 years becoming self-educated. I finished all courses for high school graduation, and was then hired by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences as a researcher. Soon after that I went to the United States at my own expense and earned two master's degree. Since 2014, I and my partners set-up WikiOmni and Word4App. The goal of these two companies is to provide all of human knowledge and through the evolution of AI and the App, make it available to everyone."

Q: What are the stories behind your career highlights surrounding of the WikiOmni and Word4App?

A:  "Before I founded WIKIOMNI and WORD4APP, I came to the United States. It was my first time to contact with Christianity. Through the missionaries, I became a Christian, and I went to SMU to study a Master's degree in Theology. This degree had an extremely important influence on my life.

I would say that my Theological studies in many ways provided the catalyst for the invention of WikiOmni and Word4App. I came to realize that there was a great inequality of opportunity when it came to access to knowledge and to education. Highlights along the way include the first day of launch of when I saw my dream become reality and the day we started seeing people from around the world contributing blogs to WikiOmni – sharing their knowledge. Entering the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE challenge and progressing to where we are still in the running is the third highlight and one that means a lot to me since it recognizes the AI power that is within the WikiOmni – Word4App approach."

  Now let's get into the WikiOmni and Word4App and the AGGS.

We will now discuss the historical, seminal AI for Good Global Summit (AGGS) organized by the ITU and XPRIZE Foundation in partnership with more than 17 UN agencies. The event will convene representatives of government, industry, UN agencies, civil society and the AI research community to explore the latest developments in AI and their implications for regulation, ethics and security and privacy. Breakout sessions will invite participants to collaborate and propose strategies for the development of AI applications and systems to promote sustainable living, reduce poverty and deliver citizen-centric public services.

Q: What is the history of the WikiOmni and Word4App?

A:  "Thank you Stephen. It is an important and exciting history. Knowledge is the foundation of all progress. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is not equally available to all people. Those who hold the most knowledge reap the greatest prosperity often at the expense of others not so knowledge rich.

For me attaining knowledge was a daily challenge and struggle. Thankfully I was able to persevere and now enjoy the rewards that access to and consumption of knowledge bring. I guess the idea for WikiOmni started from the gratitude I felt. I knew I was not the only person for whom access to knowledge was a challenge. I also knew that every person on the planet had knowledge to share with each other; knowledge was not only created by experts. With that in mind I worked with my friend Stephen Lin to design the initial platform that would become today’s WikiOmni. The Pedia section of WikiOmni presents Wikipedia content in an easily consumable form. The Blogs section welcomes new knowledge contributions from everyone. What is really exciting though is that within WikiOmni those blogs are then semantically ranked and linked to related Wikipedia content. Now users can not only receive the Wikipedia knowledge but the broader contributions of everyone who writes in our Blog space. Thus, the knowledge base grows. In bringing WikiOmni from idea to reality I was fortunate to have the support of Ms. Tiffany Mao. As founding CEO, her dedication and leadership made the idea come to life. With WikiOmni the first piece of the plan was in place. Next challenge was to design a way for every person on the planet to interact with the knowledge within WikiOmni and in all other knowledge sources available. That need resulted in the creation of Word4App.

The announcement of the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE competition was the catalyst for starting work on Word4App. The timing was perfect and the intention of the contest in solving the great world problems was perfectly aligned with my own reasons for building WikiOmni and Word4App. So, I brought together a team and we entered the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE competition where we are now building the Word4App solution. Word4APP is a semantic question and answer application. It provides Q&A based expert quality answers, user experiences, friends auto-discovery, and sematic annotation for posted content. In other words, a person, using their smart phone, can verbally ask Word4App any question in their own language and receive an audio answer in that language. I am very excited about this as it significantly removes barriers to learning even to the point that a person does not need to know how to read and write to access the world’s knowledge."

Q: Personally, professionally, and as founder of WikiOmni and Word4App, why are you supporting the UN ITU, the 18 UN Agencies partners, IBM Watson AI XPRIZE and AGGS?

A:  "My vision for WikiOmni and Word4App is that they will change the world by making knowledge available for everyone with that knowledge created by everyone. From my own experience with UN ITU I know they have constantly strived to ensure technology serves all people. That is important to me as a person, as a professional and as a founder. Through my efforts I hope to contribute to and support their historic and ongoing work. The 18 UN Agencies, to my mind, have one thing in common – improving life for everyone and in particular for those most in need. My whole life has been and continues to be dedicated to that goal as well. As for IBM Watson AI XPRIZE, it is the exciting catalyst for innovation. It shines the bright light on the opportunity that AI provides to make things so much better for so many people. But not only does it talk to this – IBM through the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE competition is challenging the best minds in the world to compete in a very positive way to come up with the best solutions and providing very significant resources to support that. Finally AGGS – I expect all of us who are striving in the AI field to create innovation would say we are hoping our work results in good outcomes. But history proves to us that all good things can be used for not so good things as well. For me the AGGS deliberately sets the world on a path of using AI for Good and boldly states that. Secondly it has attracted the best AI minds in the world. To me that is reassuring as these are the people who will create our AI future and they are in it for good by virtue of their presence here. The leadership of AGGS is critical to the positive future of an AI World and I am honored and proud to be here with WikiOmni and Word4App supporting this important work."

Q: In what ways can WikiOmni and Word4App support UN ITU, the 18 UN Agencies partners, IBM Watson AI XPRIZE and AGGS?

A:  "Both companies are grounded in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs). We use these as our guide posts in understanding our reasons for doing what we do daily. I believe that puts us in alignment with UN ITU and the 18 UN Agencies and as we grow both WikiOmni and Word4App we hope our approach and impact will directly support their goals.

As for IBM Watson AI XPRIZE, we are benefitting from their support for Word4App as we continue through the competition.

For AGGS, our support comes through our fortunate ability to serve as a sponsor for this AGGS helping in our own small way to make it a reality. We are very grateful to AGGS for their leadership in conceiving of this important event and making it happen. Our support as a sponsor is one small way we can show our support and gratitude."

Q: What outcomes do you wish to see from the summit?

A:  "I envision a world of equality encouraged through shared knowledge that everyone can access. I see AI as the most important enabling technology to realizing this. After the summit, I hope that all present leave here on a mission to drive AI to have the most positive impact it can have in all areas."

Q:: What are your top five program areas of interest at the summit and do you have any stories to share behind your choices?

A:  "My top five are Ethical development of AI, AI for Prosperity, Education, Promoting Equality in AI, and Approaches by Governments, Industries, and Other Stakeholders. If there is a story behind this it is the combination of my early life story as I related earlier combined with the birth and growth of WikiOmni and Word4App. Together these two chapters embrace and underlie my five choices. In these five I see the opportunity for the nations to come together for a common journey enabled by AI resulting in a strong ethical approach creating shared and equalized prosperity empowered by globally available knowledge (education) for everyone."

Q: Which Sustainable Development Goals supported by AI do you find the most compelling and can you personalize why you made your choices?

A:  "This unique qualities of WikiOmni and Word4App support and enable many of the UNSDGs. WikiOmni contributes to the reduction of poverty through shared profit, improved access to health knowledge, education, and lifelong learning. It has a direct positive impact on inclusiveness and diversity engagement as it grows the knowledge of every person, race and culture of earth. Word4App provides access to all the growing body of knowledge no matter what the literacy level of the individual.

But you asked about specific UNSDGs. For me they are SDGs number one, four, and ten. Number one is “No Poverty”. I know that poverty at its extreme, provides the fertile foundation for many of the negative activities of our world. I have personal experience with that. Number 4 is “Quality Education”. I shared my learning journey earlier in the interview. No one should have to struggle like this for education and everyone should have the best education not better education because you have more wealth. Finally, number 10 is “Reduced Inequalities”. In my mind this one is very key to our realization of a sustainable world. There is so much imbalance in so many things. That is why WikiOmni is incorporated as Public Benefit Company with 20% of profit going to support activities that produce social good.

I would summarize by saying I want my children’s grandchildren to live in a world or peace and sharing. The UNSDGs and these three are a path to that."

Q: What are your predictions for AI?

A:  "AI will continue to develop and find its way into every aspect of our lives. I see a future where AI is much like electricity. Electricity has not been around that long but today we find it everywhere, even powering our automobiles. We do not give it a second thought. AI will be the same. Not that many years from now we will not be talking about AI we will just be using it. Funny thing but electricity allowed us to invent computers and thus on to AI. I wonder if AI will be the foundation for some yet unthought of invention that will again reshape our lives?"

Q: How will AI impact culture, society, economic development?

A:  "That is a good question. I could spend hours discussing each one of these areas. So, let me try and sum up what I think this way. I think that AI will both support and disrupt each of these areas. Hopefully the disruption will be positive and the leadership of AGGS will certainly help that happen. The support will come in many forms across society hopefully leading to broader societal understanding and tolerance of each other and through that a just society based on shared economy."

Q: What three things continue to excite you?

  • "First of all, I am excited to provide WikiOmni and Word4App to provide omniscience to everyone in the world. I dream of a world where everyone has access to all knowledge and the ability to add to it.
  • Second as AI disrupts the world of work, I am excited to provide incentive rewards to everyone who contributes knowledge to WikiOmni and Word4app. In effect, a new job type in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
  • Finally, I am excited to build this Word4App platform where everyone will access to knowledge right away and in their native language no matter their level of literacy or formal education."
Q: What other areas particularly related to computing do you feel need to be brought into focus for discussion and policy?

A:  "As AI expands into all areas, protection of personal information and general safety of systems will become even more important than it is today. A deep focus on cybersecurity is critical going forward. Also, as we try and balance economic disparity distributed ledger (blockchain) and decentralized distributed financial systems generally will need to proliferate and operate from a global consensus policy base. Hopefully these two areas will see the importance of collaboration and not head off on separate tracks. There are other areas I could mention but these two are of immediate importance."

Q: You have many interests. Can you talk further about them?

A:  "I believe most of the war and conflict on the world is cause by the adversaries' lack of knowledge and understanding of the other side. If the children of the entire world have omniscience from their early years, the world would see much less war and conflict."

Q: You choose the topic area. What do you see as the three top broader challenges facing us today and how do you propose they be solved?

A:   "The many areas of challenge ahead reflect the broad range of topics that comprise the agenda of the AGGS. It speaks to the power of AI to deliver good outcomes that it is the underlying theme running through these areas. My own assessment of the broader challenges ahead are as follows:
  1. Within the not too distant future, AI will take over many of the traditional jobs from humans. With AI and creative thinking, we could offer new job opportunities for those displaced from traditional jobs. This was seen in the past during the industrial revolution when so many people left farms to work in the factories.
  2. AI will enable everyone to have a super IQ making them smarter than any guru. If that is the case, what is the moral relationship between human beings and AI? We are already taking steps to solve this one by coming together from around the planet at AGGS. This event is critical to a good path forward.
  3. I would sum up my final challenge as a question of two realities. In one we build a single super AI as a platform to do all good for the entire world. In the second, different groups of people have different AI approaches and we end up in a world where they compete with and possibly even end up fighting with each other for control. Solving this is a most important challenge. We are coming together in Geneva to start a global dialogue toward what I hope will be reality number one. Myself along with the teams of WikiOmni and Word4App will strive for this outcome and we hope the rest of the world will join us."
Q: From your extensive speaking, travels, and work, please share up to three stories (amusing, surprising, unexpected, amazing).

A:  "Thank you, Stephen, that brings a smile to my face. I will share my one best story when I was first trying to launch WikiOmni. I had an opportunity to travel to Vancouver, Canada to present to a potential supporter. I flew in from California where we had been experiencing years of drought. My hotel was about a twenty minute walk from my meeting so I set out for a nice walk. Halfway there the rain came pouring down. I realized then too late why the concierge at the hotel had offered me an umbrella. Halfway there, I could not go back, so continued on through the pouring rain arriving at my meeting completely soaked. It was a funny introduction to someone who would go on to become one of WikiOmni's and now Word4App's great supporters."

Q: If you were conducting this interview, what 3 questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?

A:  Now that is an interesting turn of the tables. Let me see. Okay here are my questions.

"Q1: How can you see WikiOmni and Word4App being available to everyone on the world?
A1: In our world of 7 billion people approximately 3.5 billion have toothbrushes while over 6 billion have mobile devices/ smart phones. WikiOmni and Word4App will be accessible on these.

Q2: What books would you recommend to gain a deeper understanding of AI, its promises and challenges?
A2: I read a lot and consume everything on AI that I can get my hands on. Two of my favorites are The Master Algorithm How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World by Professor Pedro Domingos, and Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostron.

Q2: What do you think of the warnings about AI expressed by esteemed leaders such as Stephen Hawking and Elim Musk?
A2: I have the deepest respect for both. They have consistently done nothing but produce great ideas and impressive results. What they say we must pay attention to. I do not disagree that Ai can be used for bad and even evil purposes. But fire can be used for both as can just about anything else in this world. What I take from their warning is a charge to work tirelessly for making good things happen with AI. That is why our teams work so hard on WikiOmni and Word4App and why we are so excited and pleased to be in a position to provide sponsorship for the AGGS and in doing so support the great work of UN ITU, the 18 UN Agencies, IBM Watson AI XPrize and the AGGS itself."

Q: John with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.

A:  "Thank you Stephen and thank you to your audience for allowing me this opportunity to share my excitement and hope for WikiOmni and Word4App – a partnership directly aimed at implementing AI for Good."