SHANGHAI - Technology giant Huawei aims to help train one million artificial intelligence (AI) talents in the next three years to boost the fast-expanding sector.
Huawei will provide free online training, organise boot camps and collaborate with industry players. It will also set up a one billion yuan (S$199 million) fund for universities and research institutes to support AI talent development.
Mr Zheng Yelai, Huawei's vice-president and president of its cloud business unit, announced this on Friday (Oct 12), the last day of the Huawei Connect Conference here.
The move is in line with China's push to become a global AI powerhouse in the next decade.
Mr Zheng also unveiled three tools, among them a cutting-edge quantum computing cloud service platform, that will help cut cost and time for AI developers.
"We want AI to be an affordable technology so that it can be applied widely," he said at a press briefing.
"Inclusive AI should be affordable, effective and reliable," he added, referring to a common complaint that AI development is inefficient and time-consuming, while AI resources, especially computing power, are scarce and expensive.
Huawei used this year's conference to emphasise its AI strategy, including the launch of two AI chips which have wide applications such as in cloud computing and consumer devices like Bluetooth earphones.
In a national plan released last year, the Chinese government estimates that the AI sector will top 150 billion yuan by 2020 and aims for the number to hit 1 trillion yuan by 2030.
However, despite receiving heavy investments and strong government support, China's AI sector still lags behind that of the United States in the size of its workforce.
A LinkedIn report counted more than 50,000 people in China's AI workforce in the first quarter of 2017 while the US had more than 850,000 working in the sector.
The scarcity of AI talents in China is reflected in the high salary that AI engineers can command.
According to Maimai, a Chinese social networking platform for professionals, an AI professional can earn more than 25,000 yuan a month three years after graduation, while an experienced engineer with more than 10 years in the AI sector can earn more than 50,000 yuan.
In comparison, the average monthly salary of a white-collar worker in the top three Chinese cities with the highest pay - Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen - in the third quarter of 2018 is about 10,000 yuan, Chinese employment portal Zhaopin said.
Mr Zhang said training one million AI talents is not too lofty a target as there are more than seven million software developers in China.
Under the plan, Huawei will give individual developers 20 hours of free introductory training, organise AI boot camps, as well as hold AI competitions to spur innovation.
For industry players, it will provide both hardware and software as well as share marketing resources to help them expand the market.
It will also invest one billion yuan to help universities and research institutes develop AI courses, build AI labs and train AI teachers.
It has started working with eight universities including Tsinghua University, the University of Science and Technology of China, Zhejiang University and Shanghai Jiaotong University to develop AI talents.