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Artificial intelligence

Huawei commits to ‘huge investment’ in top AI talent with eye on the long-term benefit

The number of AI companies in China reached 1,011 as of June, accounting for nearly a quarter of the global total

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2018, 6:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2018, 10:42pm

Huawei Technologies, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment supplier, said it will continue to invest heavily in artificial intelligence (AI) manpower, despite the added cost and pressure on the company’s bottom line, because the long-term payoff will be worthwhile.

The adoption of AI technologies will not only make its products more intelligent and improve internal management efficiency, it could contribute as much as 90 per cent of total income even though AI headcount would be relatively small compared to the total number of employees, Huang Weiwei, a senior management consultant at Huawei, said on Tuesday.

Huawei already offers salaries which are competitive with those offered by foreign technology giants such as Microsoft Corp and Intel, according to Huang, who did not elaborate on how much the company pays its top AI talent.

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“A huge investment in top AI talent will inevitably bring big cost pressures for the company but in the long run there will be benefits as the improved efficiency and productivity will help the company to earn even bigger profits,” Huang said during a media briefing in Shanghai ahead of Huawei Connect 2018, a conference with the theme of “Activate Intelligence”.

The number of AI companies in China reached 1,011 as of June this year, accounting for nearly a quarter of the overall 4,925 AI enterprises globally, and second to the number in the US, according to a Sequoia China report released in August.

China has emerged as one of the world’s top players in AI, which promises to revolutionise everything from health care to driving to policing. Beijing is betting big on the core technology behind these cutting-edge AI applications and China’s State Council last July laid out a three-step road map for AI supremacy – intensifying its trade and technology rivalry with the US amid rising tensions between the two countries.

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In China, about 60 per cent of AI talent is employed by companies based in Beijing, followed by 11.3 per cent in Hangzhou and 9.3 per cent in Shanghai, according to statistics compiled by Maimai.cn, the Chinese rival to global professional networking firm LinkedIn.

Shenzhen, where Huawei, Tencent Holdings and ZTE Corp are based, ranked fourth with 8.5 per cent of national AI talent.

The buoyant demand for AI talent has also greatly inflated salaries for AI professionals in China, with the average monthly pay exceeding 25,000 yuan (US$3,616) in the three years after graduation. For those who have worked in the AI sector for more than 10 years, average monthly salaries exceed 50,000 yuan, Wang Qian, co-founder of Maimai, said at the same event.

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“The gap for AI talent in China is huge as the demand in the past was just a few hundreds of thousands while now it is in the millions,” said Wang.

The widespread adoption of automation and AI-backed technologies within Huawei has already helped the company reduce manpower. In the technology services department one quarter of staff have been eliminated due to improved efficiency, Huang said, without elaborating.

Privately-owned Huawei, which employs more than 170,000 people worldwide, saw its revenue grow 15.7 per cent last year to 603.6 billion yuan, the company reported in late March.