Huawei's rotating chairman described founder Ren Zhengfei as "most pro-U.S."
Ren Zhengfei talked about Huawei's forced replacement of U.S. technology, ChatGPT, mathematics, etc.
We’ve had this in our draft box for quite some time but Irene Zhao at Jordan Schneider’s brilliant ChinaTalk had just beat us to it so…I have rushed to publish it.
Ren Zhengfei, the founder of Huawei, gave a speech and answered questions at a symposium organized by Huawei at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, a top Chinese university. The Feb 24, 2023, symposium celebrated outside winners of Huawei’s “Challenges Claimed” Spark Award. A WeChat blog by an institute under Shanghai Jiao Tong University published a redacted transcript of the symposium.
First of all, thank you all for your contributions to Huawei. We are still in a difficult period, but we have not stopped moving forward. In 2022, our R&D budget is 23.8 billion US dollars, and as our profits increase in the coming years, we will continue to increase investment in cutting-edge exploration. Our cooperation with universities is to explore the future of humanity within certain technological boundaries; the 2012 Laboratory is based on fundamental and applied theory to explore the possibility of practicality without KPI (key performance index); product lines are responsible for the commercial success of products. Roughly divided into these three stages, as our economic strength grows, we will continue to expand the range for external cooperation.
When I was young, I admired the West because their technology was so advanced, and in that era, books were very precious, and it was hard to find a good book to read as purchase options were highly limited. After founding Huawei, I still admired the West. At that time, we put forward a slogan "to use the best machine parts and tools in the world to create the best products in the world," and we achieved it. Later, we were suddenly sanctioned, and others could not provide us with machine parts and tools. We were at a loss. Many of the world's best machine parts come from the United States, and thus I was pro-US. When the United States hit us hard and imposed harsh sanctions, Eric Zhijun XU [Deputy Chairman & Rotating Chairman at Huawei] said to me at a company meeting, "The United States has not understood that they have turned the most pro-US person into the most anti-US person by blocking us." Of course, I am not anti-US now because if we want to be the most advanced, we must learn from all the advanced people. The soft power of the United States in science and education is something we cannot achieve in a few decades. Though American politicians come and go in cycles, the innovation soil of the United States that has persisted for centuries will not degrade because of them.
Fortunately, we have spent the past 20 years preparing on the basis of fundamentals and investing hundreds of billions to cultivate a group of scientists who research fundamentals and experts who know the technicalities. They have been striving to surmount the scientific "Himalayas." When we were suppressed, we asked these scientists to come down to the "foothills" to "herd sheep" and "plant crops"... and join the battle of "slaughtering pigs" with a "scalpel" [solve basic problems with the highly trained talents]. We completed the replacement development of more than 13,000 mechanical parts and redesigned 4,000 circuit boards in three years. It wasn't until now that the supply of our circuit boards stabilized because we now have a supply of made-in-China mechanical parts. Our MetaERP [ERP=enterprise resource planning] will be announced in April this year, and it will be a management system software using our own operating system, database, compiler, and language. MetaERP has been tested in practical applications in all departments of the company worldwide and passed the company's annual accounting test. Our company's accounts are very complicated in the industry, and thus it has successfully proven that MetaERP can be promoted with confidence. Many design tools are also open to the public on Huawei Cloud, gradually overcoming the embarrassment of supply chain interruption [as a result of U.S. sanctions].
In the past, much of our research was conducted in collaboration with Western universities. Currently, we have begun to strengthen our collaboration with Chinese universities, which is related to my change in guiding ideology. As we move towards the forefront, we will gradually strengthen our cooperation in this area within the country. Now we can start to get to know each other and if there are any questions, everyone is welcome to discuss together.
From the Q&A with Ren
Ren mentioned Chaspark, a new website set up by Huawei several times
Our learning platform is divided into several parts: the first is Chaspark, where all theories (including our own theories) are fully open because we believe that Huawei's integration capability should be stronger than other companies. Second is “Jia Xian Website,” which involves Know-How and technology, and is currently not open to the public. Third, the technological part that can be open to the public is released on Chaspark…
In the future, there will be a surge in large language models, not just from Microsoft [referring to Microsoft-funded OpenAI]. The direct contribution of artificial intelligence software platforms to human society may be less than 2%, with the rest 98% promoting industrial and agricultural society. The popularization of AI services requires a 5G connection. Germany supports Huawei's 5G technology because it wants to promote artificial intelligence to achieve unmanned production in the German industry. The Xiangtan Iron and Steel Plant in China has achieved unmanned steelmaking and rolling, while the Tianjin Port has achieved unmanned loading and unloading of cargo. Once the programming code is entered, the containers are automatically transported from the ship and then taken away by trucks. After some Shanxi coal mines implemented 5G+based AI underground, the number of personnel required underground decreased by 60-70%, with most people working in control rooms on the surface in suits and ties. These are examples of large-scale implementations that have made significant contributions to human society.
People should pay attention to applications, especially those in industrial and agricultural arenas. The application of [large language] models sometimes has more potential than the models themselves. However, our company only focuses on developing AI basic computing power platforms, and application platforms are not an option for us. Huawei has to focus on this aspect and work to establish a computing power platform that can meet societal needs. It was Eric Zhijun XU who told me that the basic computing platform will be open. We just need to contribute a little bit to the 2% contribution. What are our opportunities with ChatGPT? It will expand the need for computing power and traffic, so there will be market demand for our products.
Ren on the rapid evolution of computer sciences
The iteration speed in computer sciences is much faster than that of communication. It is not one iteration every two or three years but every two or three months. You need to feel the speed of the changes in the world. If you cannot access foreign websites, you can feel it on the Chaspark. Our employees read papers outside [China] and post what they think is useful. If there are copyright issues, they will post the index, and you can find a way to read it. The speed of the world's changes will only get faster, and the future world is terrifying. Yuval Noah Harari said at the Davos Forum that humans will be slaves to machines in the future. I could not answer the question when asked. I am relatively ignorant of social issues. I said that when a person dies, the soul disappears, and I talked about simulating the soul. In fact, the digital soul will not disappear, and it can be inherited. AI is overturning our cognition of the world in the past. Therefore, the changes in human society are unimaginable. You need to perceive these changes and read more papers.
I often tell our senior experts that they should do less work and read more papers. If you don't even have a clear direction, how can you walk on the right path? By reading papers and having coffee chats, you may inspire those lower than you. When I was young, a 69-year-old American named George Heilmeier invented liquid crystal, and at that time people envisioned a future where walls were all images. We hadn't even seen a tele at that time, so how could we understand the future? Think about how impressive this scientific prediction was! Now even liquid crystal walls have become outdated.
Ren thinks mathematics is everything
Napoleon's approach of using mathematics to build a country has promoted the advancement of mathematics in France; Catherine the Great's introduction of Western philosophy and painting has also promoted Russia’s development. Physics is [based on] mathematics, civil engineering is [based on] mathematics, and mechanics is also [based on] mathematics... Mathematics can be used to solve problems in various fields, and its application can be very broad. For example, civil engineering experts can use their understanding of civil engineering to solve algorithm problems related to civil engineering.
Why does our company value mathematics? What is radio? What is communication? Aren't electromagnetic waves just equations? Dr. Erdal Arikan from Turkey wrote a mathematical paper, which became the foundation of 5G technology ten years later. In the early 1960s, a Soviet scientist, Peter Ufimtsev, published a paper that showed how diamond facets could scatter radio waves, which helped shape the United States’ F22 stealth fighter twenty years later, In the 1950s, Professor WU Zhonghua of the Chinese Academy of Sciences laid the foundation for the jet engine industry today with his general theory of three-dimensional flow for turbomachinery...In the future, as we move towards an information society, the importance of mathematics will continue to increase. Artificial intelligence is [based on] mathematics, and algorithm problems are mathematics problems…
Ren believes China’s social system has unique advantages
China's social system has its unique advantages. China's infrastructure, such as high-speed railways, highways, power supply systems, and telecommunications systems, has been extended to remote and sparsely populated areas. Without the power of the state to do these things at any cost, farmers would not be able to get rid of poverty. This is the superiority of socialism. China proposed the concept of "eastern data analyzed in the west," which the United States cannot achieve because the U.S. economy is based on private ownership. Why is the U.S. power grid not as stable as China's? The rules of China's power grid are scientifically distributed, with scientific distribution in areas with and without people, while American companies will only serve places where they can make money. In particular, China's high-voltage direct current transmission is leading the world, which requires the coordination of thousands of pieces of equipment. Without national planning and coordination, this achievement would not be possible. The Soviet Union, which started at the same time as China, did not achieve the same level because of its dissolution. The United States has more than 60 power grids, which cannot be coordinated to achieve such an achievement.
Norway is the world's richest country, with a per capita GDP surpassing ten thousand dollars more than 20 years ago. However, the population is too dispersed, and no one would build communication infrastructure in rural areas. Some places cannot receive television signals, and it is also difficult to make phone calls. Therefore, China's superior socialist mechanism may enable China's computing power to rise.
Ren on Huawei’s way of developing human capital
When all new employees attend the orientation there are lists of questions everywhere, and everyone should actively reply to these questions. Someone may read your post, while others may come to you for coffee, and you should communicate sincerely, whether in agreement or disagreement. They are selecting people, and these experts have the authority to give you a level and job position on the spot because they are high-profile experts themselves. If they think you can be trained, your rank will be very high, so why do you have to start from the lowest level? They can also bring you into their project team, and you will directly enter a large project team. The large project team does not refer to the size but the high-end project team.
We emphasize that we should select top talents without any constraints, combining the senior, middle-aged, and young, and moving forward in an open environment. Young people between 25 to 35 years old possess the most breakthrough ability; experienced people have architectural abilities, and architecture and breakthrough are equally important. There are also successes and failures in science and technology. Don't be discouraged in face of defeat because failure is also a practical exercise for you.
Secondly, we cannot monopolize top talents. If employees want to start their own businesses or go to other companies, they should be allowed to use their expertise and contribute to the country. In the past, there was a movie called That Forward Center Dies at Dawn. If ee monopolize top minds holding onto them even if they are useless, wasting their youth, and paying them salaries, we will become a mouse in the bellows that gets pressed on both ends. We also need to reflect on our HR mechanism. For example, some people may not be able to apply their best areas of expertise after entering a company, which is a waste of their youth.
The key to top talents is how to utilize them. For example, we emphasize the expert vertical circulation mechanism, which means that experts cannot stay in one position for a long time and must go to the front line. When the stone is turned over, the grass underneath grows taller and everyone can see it. This way, young people will not be buried under the "stone." The purpose of expert vertical circulation is to combine theory and practice to solve practical problems. Vertical cycling does not necessarily mean a salary reduction, and there are no levels in the workgroup. The expert can have a higher level than the administrative department, and they could be "lieutenant" "colonel" "major general" "general," etc., to maintain their circulation until they find a suitable position. Of course, those who are not suitable will also face lay-off. Without the real-world application of theories, it may take dozens of times to feel the effect through blind groping. Without practice, there is no profound understanding of theory.
In China, science and technology are very often used together as if they are the same thing. Ren thinks different
I think science and technology are two different concepts. Science is discovery, and technology is invention. Vannevar Bush’s book Science: The Endless Frontier makes a good point that science is the endless frontier, and the unknown is science. From this perspective, education and science are the same. Education doesn't necessarily have accurate answers, and accurate answers are not necessarily what schools need.
If education always pursues results, students' thinking will be constrained. Therefore, we cannot be too pragmatic, and the demand-driven approach on education is not enough to push China forward. Education should allow students to think freely. As long as their logical thinking is in line, we should not constrain them. Reading is to get the key to open the door. The key is to learn a methodology for applying knowledge, which is more important than knowledge itself. Because knowledge can be obtained on the Internet, how to combine and splice it is what university students should learn.
Corporate demand is practical because we must solve practical issues, but education should not focus on practical needs and should be future-oriented.
Science is driven by curiosity. Some theories and papers may not have an impact until one or two centuries later. Einstein made great discoveries at a young age, but people did not understand him. He was also very lonely, always looking for someone to have coffee with, with each talking about their own. But life is short, how many people could have been interested in having coffee with him? Do not think that every day there was someone willing to drink coffee with Einstein. Greatness and loneliness are synonyms. For example, Mendel's pea hybridization experiment lasted eight years from 1856 to 1863. He organized the research results into a paper titled “Experiments on Plant Hybridization”, in which he discovered genes, but failed to attract academic attention at the time because Mendel's ideas and experiments were too advanced at the time. It was only after a hundred years that people realized the enormous value of genes to human society.
We still need to separate science and technology. If we talk about doing things with a purpose, the purpose is technology, not science. Science is your hobby, and you are willing to pay any price to figure things out. Therefore, most scientists look like madmen, and few scientists can see the achievements of their research in human society. For example, James Clerk Maxwell did not know how important his equations are to human society, as the wireless world today is based on his electromagnetic field theory. Michael Faraday did not know that the electrification of society now originated from his coil experiment, and Pythagoras could not have imagined that his geometric theory evolved into calculus...
Scientists are also "ascetics". The process of scientists pushing forward the frontier of science is similar to that of missionaries going to Africa. Those missionaries who went to Africa suffered a lot. A few hundred years ago, they could only travel by small wooden boats from Europe to Africa, and it was fortunate if 1 out of 100 people could survive. Then they went deep into the barren land and primeval forests, and only a few could survive. Would they be able to go back to England and visit their families in this life? Probably not. Dedicating oneself is painful but also joyful. Without their devotion, Africa could not have been developed. How can you develop the region when you can not even communicate in their language? The missionaries spread language in Africa and thus built a good language environment, which laid the foundation for development.
[Zichen’s note: I’m pretty sure at the very least Africans and progressive Westerners will object to that very much.]
More on Huawei and Ren Zhengfei from Pekingnology