China increasingly hungry for AI talents

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 29, 2018.
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KUALA LUMPUR: In the new era of artificial intelligence (AI), organisations are demanding for AI talents.

According to Maimai, China’s biggest rival to LinkedIn, China alone has been facing a shortage of five million AI talents in 2018. Its research shows that demand for AI talents has grown tremendously over the years, with the AI talent gap in China widening from just a few hundred thousand people a few years ago to five million.

The world’s leading research and advisory company Gartner has said that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationships with enterprises without interacting with a human.

In future, each thing, person or business will be connected and generate tons of data, thanks to companies such as Amazon, Huawei, Facebook, Google and Apple which are pushing the forefront of data use and AI and are setting the bar for AI-driven customer experience and disrupting markets.

“As the technological revolution moves towards AI, enterprises also require AI talents with knowledge and expertise of recent technological trends and capabilities, such as deep learning, the cloud and IoT (Internet of things),” the co-founder and head of commercial strategy of Maimai, Wang Qian, told a media round table in Shanghai recently.

Shanghai, together with Beijing, Hangzhou and Shenzhen, are China’s biggest AI development hubs now. Beijing has the biggest AI talent pool among China’s cities, with some 60% of the country’s AI talent pool concentrated there.

“A fresh graduate with an AI speciality can make an average 12,000 yuan (RM7,196) per month. AI professionals with three years of experience can earn around 25,000 yuan. The number goes up to 50,000 yuan for those with more than 10 years of experience,” Wang said.

With the increasing AI talent gap, it is not surprising to see some technology giants paying eye-popping salaries to attract AI talents, said Wang.

“To some extent, Chinese tech giants like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, also known as the BAT, are willing to offer an annual salary of up to two million yuan to hunt for top AI talents,” she added.

Wang further noted that besides high salaries, a good working environment that nourishes the development of AI is also a key attribute AI talents look for in potential employers.

Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, also acknowledges the importance of providing a good environment to attract top AI talents. Having an annual budget for research and development (R&D) that amounts to US$20 billion (RM83.6 billion), Huawei is looking to increase the allocation for AI, which is at 20% to 30%, to attract more AI talents.

“At Huawei, growing human capital is more important than growing financial capital,” Huang Weiwei, a senior management consultant at Huawei and a professor at the Renmin University of China School of Business, said.

Huang said the company will continue to invest in AI talents to achieve better growth going forward. The adoption of advanced technologies like AI and automation has benefited the company by improving efficiency and productivity. As a result, Huang said Huawei’s income per capita is among the highest in the industry.

“Development requires investment, which incurs costs. Hiring new people may limit performance, but we must look into the future to gain new perspectives. We must seize the right opportunities to achieve rapid development,” Huang said.

The privately owned Huawei group or Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, which employs 180,000 people worldwide, saw its annual revenue grew 15.7% year-on-year to 603.6 billion yuan in 2017, while its net profit rose 28.1% to 47.5 billion yuan.

 

Huawei to invest over US$140m in AI talent education

To build an affordable, effective, reliable and inclusive AI ecosystem, Huawei has introduced its “AI Developer Enablement Programme”, in which it has committed to investing US$140 million (RM585.2 million) in AI talent education.

The announcement was made at this year’s Huawei Connect conference. Huawei said the programme will help Huawei collaborate with developers, partners, universities and research institutions, and expects to build a better development ecosystem that can support AI resources, platforms, courses, and joint solutions through the programme.

Huawei said the investment will include cooperating with universities and scientific research institutes to develop AI courses, publish textbooks, and support scientific research and talent training.

The investment will also help universities and research institutes to build AI colleges and institutes, as well as assist in building AI labs, helping universities train AI teachers and participating in AI-related programmes held by the education ministry.

In addition, the investment will offer universities and research institutions the computing power and technology based on Huawei’s AI platform “to promote scientific research and exploration in the AI field”, and will support the universities in participating in the Huawei cloud open community and building a platform for communications among universities, research institutes and Huawei AI experts.

Through the AI Developer Enablement Programme, Huawei also aims to work with developers and partners. Some plans will include setting up an innovation camp for top talents to help transform R&D successes into commercial applications and set up an AI promotion alliance to build a joint innovation lab.