The topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) almost always comes up when we talk about the future of technology. And the common thread is that AI will change the way we work, live and play. We cannot help but wonder what is the impact of its rise to a technology market leader like Huawei and their strategy for seizing the opportunities AI brings. The IT Society speaks to Huawei International’s Chief Executive Officer Nicholas Ma to find out.
Q: Question, NM: Nicholas Ma
Q: Most people know Huawei for its cutting-edge smartphones, but that is just one part of Huawei’s business. Can you give us an overview of Huawei?
NM: Aside from smart devices such as smartphones, tablets and wearables that consumers know us for, Huawei also provides enterprise products, solutions and services for businesses and governments across four key domains – telecom networks, IT, smart devices, and cloud services and intelligent computing.
Q: How important is AI technology to Huawei on a strategic level?
NM: At Huawei, we see great potential in AI and have mapped out an ambitious strategy for the next few years. We have not only identified broad areas where we see we can grow in, but also put in place specific plans that build upon our existing capabilities to do more. The establishment of the Intelligent Computing Business Unit to develop AI infrastructure products is one of them. We recognise that much of the focus today is on connecting things like smart homes, autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things (IoT). And central to the growth of these technologies is the availability of large amounts of quality data and machine learning. Besides new technologies, AI also has the power to transform traditional communication systems, making them more agile and intelligent. One example is cloud computing. With the augmentation of AI, cloud can go beyond being a technology that mainly provides data storage to providing data analytics.
Of course, some of these AI enabled technologies are still in the early growth stage. But the promise is there for them to mature and bring about great benefits for people and businesses. Naturally, Huawei prioritises our investment in proprietary AI technology development.
Q: What are some AI innovations that the newly established Intelligent Computing Business Unit is working on at the moment?
NM: Actually, Huawei Intelligent Computing Business Unit is not new, it is an evolution from Huawei Server Product Line which had been doing development for over 16 years now. But with the new branding, we are looking to bring about pervasive intelligent computing with innovation in chip algorithms and architectures.
For example, the Ascend310 AI chip we released at HUAWEI CONNECT 2018 can recognise more than 200 faces in a single frame picture as compared to a maximum of 30 faces in a common processor. With a performance that is seven times better, its power consumption is no more than eight watts. Similarly, our Ascend chip-based Atlas intelligent computing platform builds upon Huawei’s Ascend series AI processors and mainstream heterogeneous computing components in the industry to provide AI infrastructure solutions that can be widely used in smart city, smart transportation, smart healthcare, and other AI inference. We are hopeful that through our continuous innovations, our customers will have access to powerful computing – paving the way to the future of AI.
Q: How does Singapore fit in with Huawei’s AI strategy?
NM: Huawei has been in Singapore for over 18 years now and is definitely our most important hub for the Asia- Pacific region, outside China. The importance of Singapore to Huawei is further fuelled by the synergy between our increasing focus on AI and Singapore’s vibrant AI research and development landscape. The launch of our new regional office in Singapore on 20 February 2019 reflects our confidence and hope for the country and the region.
In tandem with our plans to build Huawei’s AI capabilities in Singapore, we are actively collaborating with industry partners to develop and deep- dive into end-to-end solutions. After all, for AI to truly deliver on everyone’s expectations and for adoption to take place, having a comprehensive ecosystem is important. Therefore, it is not enough for Huawei to provide AI enabled infrastructure; we also need partners who share the same vision to leverage the platform and develop compatible applications. Towards this aim, we are launching our AI enabled cloud in April this year to give local startups a platform to develop on.
Q: How else does a presence in Singapore help with Huawei’s AI strategy?
NM: Singapore presents a very unique environment for Huawei. It is one of the most open economies globally which enables us to reach out to diverse demographics of people and industries in the region – and even globally – with our solutions.
For us to realise our AI aspirations, we need trained talents who are passionate about AI research and development to join us in pushing the cause forward. And organisations like the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Economic Development Board (EDB) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have been very supportive in this aspect. We are eager to enlarge the coverage of cooperation with other universities, polytechnics and industrial players. Together with some of these universities and polytechnics, we have launched the Seeds for the Future programme, which targets to cultivate Singaporean undergraduates into future AI talents.
Q: What are your hopes for the tech industry?
NM: Over the course of my work, I’ve travelled to more than 50 countries for different projects. And till today, it is still very heartening to see how much the locals appreciate the work we do for them. They reaffirm the value of our work and, more importantly, show us how our services have the ability to change lives and make the world a better place. It is a humbling experience and a strong reminder that – as a big technology company, Huawei can play a part to help solve some of the most complex problems in the world today.