Pony Ma Says Tencent Will Invest Vigorously in Cloud Computing, AI and Big Data

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Outline: Anything linked to cloud computing and AI will be involved with big data. The development of these technologies are undoubtedly where the future is headed towards.

On September 8th, the Chairman and CEO of Tencent, Pony Ma, delivered a speech at the Tsinghua University Insight Forum. On the topic of the integration of business and science and technology, he expressed that with the advancement of the digital economy, technology has integrated itself into all aspects of our lives. Within this massive tide of digitization and intelligentization, technology is definitely a field that everyone should follow closely with.

Ma says that there are three basic components that Tencent is vigorously invested in, namely AI, cloud computing and big data. He also stressed that in the past, electricity consumption is used as a measure indicator of how well our industries have developed. Heading into the future now, cloud computing will be used instead to gauge how well our digital economy is doing. And the same thing goes double for big data. Anything linked to cloud computing and AI will be involved with big data. The development of these technologies are undoubtedly where the future is headed towards.

Ma’s full lecture transcript is below.

I’m very honored to be able to participate in this Tsinghua forum. Having just heard Professor Brian Kobilka’s speech, I felt particularly small because I felt that I only managed to understand closely 30% of it. I can only say that I was very impressed even though I didn’t understand much.

I just found out that Professor Brian is an entrepreneur himself. Outside of China, the integration of business and science and technology is very common. And I also found out that Professor Zhang Shoucheng is a both a physicist and an investor with his own business. Just recently, I congratulated him on the discovery of the “angel particle”, and saw the solar eclipse in the United States through his post on WeChat. I watched him explain the science behind solar eclipse as well. This whole experience gave me a feeling: investors who are unwilling to become somewhat of a scientist, won’t make good entrepreneurs.

And then we have Professor Rao Yi here with us too. We know that recently, Professor Rao, along with Professor Shi Yigong, Professor Pan Jianwei, Professor Chen Shiyi and Professor Qian Yingyi founded the Westlake Institute for Advanced Studies together.

Although it’s perhaps not exactly appropriate to celebrate this here at Tsinghua University, but I think education and public welfare shouldn’t be addressed separately; they should be equal for everybody. Several of our classmates in our scholars’ class at Tsinghua were also inspired. We too, wanted to become scientists once, but never had the opportunity.

Like I said earlier, those who are unwilling to become scientists, make unsatisfactory entrepreneurs. We wanted to be among the first group of donors too.

We have here with us today, students from the Tsinghua-Qingteng Future Science and Technology School, co-established by us and Tsinghua, and former students from the Tengying department at Tencent. To add on, we even have Tsinghua entrepreneurs and scholars here with us today. I feel very honoured to be able to discuss the future of technology with such a large student body here.

Professor Brian Kobilka and Professor Zhang are both from Stanford. We all know that Stanford is the birthplace of Silicon Valley. And that one of the greatest feature of Silicon Valley is its perfect combination of technology and business. I think this is a very valuable lesson to learn from for the whole world, especially China.

Although there aren’t many private colleges like Stanford and Harvard in China (there are more public than private colleges), we still made multiple attempts at innovating. For example, Tencent and Tsinghua has long established a joint laboratory that has recently turned its focus on AI research. This time too, we’ve established the Tsinghua-Qingteng Future Science and Technology School. We hope to facilitate R&D and industrial integration and innovation by making innovative attempts one after another.

I understand that 48 of our students this time were selected from more than a thousand black technology founders, which puts the admission rate at 4%. A very low admission rate indeed. You can see that China has made tons of efforts on this front as well.

I’d like to share a few words on how we feel about the integration of technology and business here at Tencent.

First, just as Professor Cheng mentioned earlier, today’s society has changed drastically throughout the past two years. Of the top ten companies with the highest market value in the world, the first five became Internet and IT-based enterprises. The top ten companies in the past used to be the giants in the energy and financial sectors. But now, this has undergone enormous changes in the past two years. Tencent and Alibaba had the honor of joining the ranks of these top ten companies, seven of which are Internet and technology companies. This definitely tells us something.

We all know that Goldman Sachs recently claimed itself to be a tech company as well, and explained that more than one-third of its employees are scientific researchers, and that their numbers exceeded researchers at Facebook. We have not yet verified this figure. But this gives me the feeling that everyone is working hard regardless of the field and sector they’re in. Thus, what reason do we have to not work hard as well?

We’re now realizing more and more that with the advancement of the digital economy, technology has integrated itself into all aspects of our lives. Within this massive tide of digitalization and intelligentization, technology is definitely a field that everyone should follow closely with.

Second, what can Tencent do really? Tencent’s business model in the past used to focus mainly on social interaction, communications, digital content and some financial services, as well as investment and cooperation with other ecological companies. For me, I feel there are several basic components that we are willing to invest in, namely AI, cloud computing and Big Data.

We will cooperate with every sector, academia and field of research through the Internet.

I once said that the future of all enterprises is to move towards the general direction of sorting out big data through AI and cloud computing. On that topic, here at Tencent, we are more concerned with what we can do with AI exactly.

Last year, AlphaGo defeated the world champion of Go. Since then, everyone followed closely with AI. We also dove right into the R&D of AI. Aside from finished developing a program that can win against the world champion of Go, we have also launched a smart product named “Tencent Miying”, an AI-assisted medical imaging for the early screening of esophageal cancer. Not only that, the application can examine lung X-ray images, detect breast cancer, and really perform any sort of medical image analysis and be useful to doctors. We believe that Deep Learning can be very useful in the field of medicine in the future.

AI can also be applied to many other fields such as the financial sector, robotics, as well as every aspect of our daily lives and businesses. Personally, I think this is going to be the new major trend.

Next is cloud computing. The topic of cloud computing has been discussed for over many years, and it’s finally becoming clearer and clearer. Many companies used to be very conservative. They’re more in favor of keeping their data on their own networks, and not floating around externally on open networks. But I think this sort of narrow-minded thinking is obsolete. It’s the same as the invention of electricity. It’s impossible for every company to go without the public electricity grid, and build their own power plants at home. It’s simply impossible.

In the past, electricity consumption is used as an indicator of how well our industries have developed. Heading into the future now, cloud computing will be used instead to guage how well our digital economy is doing. And the same thing goes double for big data. Anything linked to cloud computing and AI will be involved with big data. The development of these technologies are undoubtedly where the future is headed towards.

And on this basis, Tencent is hoping to cooperate with every industry, including those on the forefront of these highly efficient scientific research institutions, to carry out all sorts of R&D. We have a special team in the United States, with Mr. David Wallerstein serving as the senior vice president. The title he’s given is CXO—Chief Exploration Officer, a position that very few companies have. He’s going out of his way to look for investment opportunities that are not part of Tencent’s conventional approaches such as space exploration and satellite companies which we have also invested in.

For example, we vote for the Argentine satellite company, you can use a small satellite shooting near the ground in real time or quasi-real-time image photos. In addition, we are also very active in biopharmaceutical investment.

Of course, we’ve also invested in Tesla, holding 5% of its shares. We believe that the various black technology born from inside Tesla will emerge wave after wave, becoming the representatives of the future. The future of technology will definitely be inseparable with cloud computing, AI and big data. And when combined together effectively, that’ll be our playground, a place where we can finally be of help. It’s of utmost importance to obtain the context and the market. As long as you obtain the market, whether it is the latest tech or talent that you seek, all of these will follow along when you have the market. That is the future we’re looking to explore.

Finally, I would like to say that within this environment, there ought to be innovative thinking being born in IAR (Industry, Academia, and Research). A year ago, I attended Hong Kong X in Hong Kong, an organization founded by Shen Nanpeng, founder of Sequoia Capital, and Professor Li Zexiang from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. We feel that the integration of IAR is very promising. We hope to make a difference by utilizing Hong Kong’s internationalization and university resources, and following the massive environment provided by the smart manufacturing, talents and production bases in China’s Greater Bay Area (Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao).

Their research team told me that IAR is also going through quite a few changes outside of China. For example, there is Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering near Boston. The college is very unique. It’s unique in the sense that students get to break the traditional faculty style of education right when they get in, and engage in cross-disciplinary projects with businesses, and integrate theory and practice altogether this way.

And then there’s the University of Waterloo in Canada, which offers a whole lot of opportunities to work with various enterprises as well. In addition, MIT’s recent brand new venture “The Engine”, with the help of a few school funds, offers and encourages students to transform their ideas into reality and turn their samples into actual products. This is also another brand new trend.

Professor Li and the principal of HKUST even tried to persuade me into supporting some of their new plans and projects. For example, we talked about the possibility of setting up a new type of educational institution in Hong Kong based on the innovative education methods mentioned earlier. We’ll call it the “Greater Bay Area Science and Technology University” for now, or even the Science and Technology Middle School. This way, we’ll cultivate a new batch of talents from scratch and make a difference in the Greater Bay Area. This is also a very good idea that we’re still exploring.

Here at Tencent, the one thing we did recently during the summer, is the launch of our Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao youth camp.

We invited about 100 young talents—mainly high school students—from Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao to participate in our summer camp. We brought them to various companies such as Tencent and DJI in Shenzhen, and allowed them to experience AI, AR, VR first hand, as well as experience cash-less purchases, etc. We just wanted them to get in touch with technology altogether. They also had the chance to check out UAVs and robots at DJI.

Of course, there were also activities that young folks enjoy in particular such as sailing and baseball; these are all activities that these students haven’t really been engaged in. Evidently, they were ecstatic. This summer camp successfully brought together young students from all three areas and deepened their relationships. We also offered summer internships to college students in these three areas as well. These are all the different directions we’ve been working towards.

Lastly, I hope that our industries and schools will actively team up with each other, and greet the massive tide that is the digitalization and intelligentization of the manufacturing industry. Thank you!

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