Sat, May 05, 2018 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Minister touts AI in nation’s industrial transformation

Minister of Science and Technology Chen Liang-gee addresses how China-US trade friction might affect Taiwanese businesses and how the ministry is promoting the development of artificial intelligence (AI) technology and assisting businesses in an interview with ‘Taipei Times’ reporter Lin Chia-nan

Minister of Science and Technology Chen Liang-gee gestures in an interview with the Taipei Times on Friday last week in Taipei.

Photo: Lin Chia-nan, Taipei Times

Taipei Times: What is the impact of the recent trade friction between the US and China on Taiwan’s information technology (IT) industry, especially after the US Department of Commerce imposed a seven-year denial of export privileges on Chinese telecom firm ZTE last month and Huawei is said to face similar sanctions?

Chen Liang-gee (陳良基): US caution against Chinese electronics products is nothing new, but it has drawn more attention lately because of US President Donald Trump’s high-profile actions.

A few years ago, people started feeling some qualms about using Huawei’s smartphones after its firmware was found to contain secret “backdoors.” While IT engineers used to install backdoors to facilitate maintenance, it is scary for users, not knowing where their personal data are being sent via the Internet.

People have begun paying more attention to the value of data. As the divide between cyberspace and real-life space grows smaller, nations are finding it necessary to set up international borders and trade barriers to safeguard their security.

For Taiwan, about 40 percent of its IT components are exported to China, and it might get caught up if there is a crisis in the Chinese market. Taiwanese businesses should therefore pursue diversification. As the saying goes, short-term pain could turn into a long-term gain if they could reduce their reliance on a single market.

From a short-term perspective, the impact on Taiwanese firms would be limited, because many of ZTE’s key suppliers are based in the US, while Huawei has begun to manufacture its own components.

Nonetheless, local businesses should regard the conflict between the two nations as a warning, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that have closer ties to the Chinese market and realize the need to quickly make adjustments.

TT: How would you evaluate the nation’s AI development?

Chen: Since the ministry last year announced its plan to promote AI, people have gained more knowledge about the technology, with businesses across sectors pouring resources into the industry.

In the past, students of AI technology felt a disconnect, because there were few “exciting” plans to stimulate their learning, but now those interested in the industry know how they can proceed.

The key is to take the next step forward. We are glad to see so many tech giants — Alphabet Inc’s Google, IBM and Microsoft Corp — announcing plans to recruit AI talent in Taiwan, with more companies planning to follow suit.

The nation does not face a serious predicament as some people claim. At least for its tech industry, there are many opportunities that can be explored.

The government’s job is to set the stage for businesses — to help them reduce investment uncertainty and create added value. For example, we persuaded TSMC [Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co] to build its 3-nanometer fab in Tainan and Winbond to build a 12-inch wafer plant in Kaohsiung last year by showing them our plans to promote industrial transformation.

TT: Local businesses have complained about five shortages — water, electricity, land, talent and workers — that hamper development. Do you agree?

Chen: I look at such complaints as a positive sign. [Businesses] complained about shortages because they have an optimistic view of the future and plan to expand their scope.

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