CHINA Podcast: Story in the Story (5/14/2019 Tue.)


Podcast: Story in the Story (5/14/2019 Tue.)

People's Daily app

00:49, May 14, 2019


From the People's Daily app.

And this is Story in the Story.

By the first quarter of 2017, there were more than 1.9 million global AI professionals, but China was home to only 50,000.

Today, Chinese universities only supply roughly 200 graduates who specialize in AI.

Observers estimate the AI industry faces a talent gap of roughly 1 million people. 

Universities in China will welcome their first undergraduate students majoring in artificial intelligence this September.  

The Ministry of Education announced 35 universities had been approved to establish a four-year undergraduate AI degree program.

Today, it isn't uncommon for a master's student with an AI background to sign a preliminary contract with a tech company before they graduate.  

Today's Story in the Story looks at how universities in China now offer undergraduate AI programs in efforts to reduce talent shortages while ensuring healthy tech sector development.  


AI robots perform at an exhibition center in Nanchang, capital of East China's Jiangxi Province in November. (Photo: VCG)

Shen Xiangyang, global executive vice president of Microsoft, recently told a group of incoming interns that the AI golden era has arrived.

"The world belongs to you," he said while addressing a new crop of AI researchers.

In a 2019 report from Chinese think-tank AI Era, "AI unicorns" in the field of automobile traffic and corporate services account for more than half of the country's total AI talent pool.

The top candidates typically come from Tsinghua University and account for over a quarter of the total, making the school somewhat of an incubator for AI Unicorns.

Efforts are also underway to provide AI education at primary and secondary schools.

Competition for skilled employees or “AI unicorns” among China’s start-ups is fierce and has fueled a rise in salaries.

Hou, a 31-year old with a Ph.D., is exactly the type of candidate Chinese start-ups demand.

"I've had several offers from AI start-ups including Face++, and the annual salary some of them offered is as high as $86,000," he said.

Tianjin University was one of the first higher learning institutions to launch a dedicated AI faculty.

Hu Qinghua, dean of the school's AI College, explained that starting annual salaries for master's and Ph.D. holders in the AI industry can reach 400,000 yuan. "Some of the best graduates can even earn an annual salary wage of 1 million yuan," he added.

A spokesperson from Guangzhou's CloudWalk said salaries for algorithm-related positions have experienced a 50 to100 percent increase in two years.

AI companies will scour universities to "reserve" the best students.  


An artificial intelligence-powered robot welcomes a customer in the Xiangyang branch of Ping An Bank in Xiangyang, Hubei province. (Photo: China Daily)

The spokesperson also stressed that the AI industry can share skilled staff with other sectors, so what China lacks are high-end AI talents.

"We've started classes in subjects like AI theory, machine learning, deep learning and computer vision to provide systematic training for students," Hu said, noting that Tianjin University's first cohort of 60 AI students will graduate in four years.

Zheng Nanning, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Engineering and head of the innovation research academy of intelligent robotics at Xi'an Jiaotong University, offers an experimental undergraduate AI program with 55 students taught by the country's leading experts.

The university established the academy in October 2017 and an AI school in January. The academy has 26 master's candidates and eight doctoral candidates, Zheng said.

"Universities should aim for major breakthroughs in basic research and core technology. We are still striving to achieve revolutionary and disruptive changes in AI theories, methods, tools and systems," he added.

Chinese universities will become core forces for building major global AI innovation centers by 2030.

The long-term plan involves integrating AI in disciplines such as mathematics, statistics, physics, biology, psychology, and sociology.

Tsinghua University established an AI institute in 2018 as part of its efforts to advance AI research and education.

Aiming to become a worldwide AI research institution, the institute focuses on the basic theory of AI and actively promotes cross-disciplinary AI research as well as the integration of academia and industry.

"A top AI expert must first have solid basic training in math and computer science, and then be able to commercialize AI algorithms based on applications. They also need to keep abreast of cutting-edge tech breakthroughs," said a Beijing-based HR executive. 

(Produced by Nancy Yan Xu, Lance Crayon, Brian Lowe, and Chelle Wenqian Zeng. Music by: Text from Global Times and China Daily.)

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