Artificial Intelligence: Million-dollar BabiesppB我爱范文库


As Silicon Valley fights for talent, universities struggle to hold on to their starsppB我爱范文库


That a computer program can repeatedly beat the world champion at Go, a complex board game, is a coup for the fast-moving field of artificial intelligence (AI). Another high-stakes game, however, is taking place behind the scenes, as firms compete to hire the smartest AI experts. Technology giants, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Baidu, are racing to expand their AI activities. Last year, they spent some $8.5 billion on research, deals and hiring, says Quid, a data firm. That was four times more than in 2010.考生如果怕自己错过考试成绩查询的话,可以 免费预约短信提醒,届时会以短信的方式提醒大家报名和考试时间。ppB我爱范文库


In the past universities employed the world’s best AI experts. Now tech firms are plundering departments of robotics and machine learning (where computers learn from data themselves) for the highest-flying faculty and students, luring them with big salaries similar to those fetched by professional athletes.ppB我爱范文库


Last year Uber, a taxi-hailing firm, recruited 40 of the 140 staff of the National Robotics Engineering Centre at Carnegie Mellon University, and set up a unit to work on self-driving cars. That drew headlines because Uber had earlier promised to fund research at the centre before deciding instead to peel off its staff. Other firms seek talent more quietly but just as doggedly. The migration to the private sector startles many academics. “I cannot even hold onto my grad students,” says Pedro Domingos, a professor at the University of Washington who specialises in machine learning and has himself had job offers from tech firms. “Companies are trying to hire them away before they graduate.”ppB我爱范文库


Experts in machine learning are most in demand. Big tech firms use it in many activities, from basic tasks such as spam-filtering and better targeting of online advertisements, to futuristic endeavours such as self-driving cars or scanning images to identify disease. As tech giants work on features such as virtual personal-assistant technology, to help users organise their lives, or tools to make it easier to search through photographs, they rely on advances in machine learning.ppB我爱范文库


Tech firms’ investment in this area helps to explain how a once-arcane academic gathering, the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, held each December in Canada, has become the Davos of AI. Participants go to learn, be seen and get courted by bosses looking for talent. Attendance has tripled since 2010, reaching 3,800 last year.ppB我爱范文库


No reliable statistics exist to show how many academics are joining tech companies. But indications exist. In the field of “deep learning”, where computers draw insights from large data sets using methods similar to a human brain’s neural networks, the share of papers written by authors with some corporate affiliation is up sharply.ppB我爱范文库


Tech firms have not always lavished such attention and resources on AI experts. The field was largely ignored and underfunded during the “AI winter” of the 1980s and 1990s, when fashionable approaches to AI failed to match their early promise. The present machine-learning boom began in earnest when Google started doing deals focused on AI. In 2014, for example, it bought DeepMind, the startup behind the computer’s victory in Go, from researchers in London. The price was rumoured to be around $600m. Around then Facebook, which also reportedly hoped to buy DeepMind, started a lab focused on artificial intelligence and hired an academic from New York University, Yann LeCun, to run it.ppB我爱范文库


The firms offer academics the chance to see their ideas reach markets quickly, which many like. Private-sector jobs can also free academics from the uncertainty of securing research grants. Andrew Ng, who leads AI research for the Chinese internet giant Baidu and used to teach full-time at Stanford, says tech firms offer two especially appealing things: lots of computing power and large data sets. Both are essential for modern machine learning.ppB我爱范文库


All that is to the good, but the hiring spree could also impose costs. One is that universities, unable to offer competitive salaries, will be damaged if too many bright minds are either lured away permanently or distracted from the lecture hall by commitments to tech firms. Whole countries could suffer, too. Most big tech firms have their headquarters in America; places like Canada, whose universities have been at the forefront of AI development, could see little benefit if their brightest staff disappear to firms over the border, says Ajay Agrawal, a professor at the University of Toronto.ppB我爱范文库


Another risk is if expertise in AI is concentrated disproportionately in a few firms. Tech companies make public some of their research through open sourcing. They also promise employees that they can write papers. In practice, however, many profitable findings are not shared. Some worry that Google, the leading firm in the field, could establish something close to an intellectual monopoly. Anthony Goldbloom of Kaggle, which runs data-science competitions that have resulted in promising academics being hired by firms, compares Google’s pre-eminence in AI to the concentration of talented scientists who laboured on the Manhattan Project, which produced America’s atom bomb.ppB我爱范文库



Office Communication: The Slack GenerationppB我爱范文库


How workplace messaging could replace other missivesppB我爱范文库


Stewart Butterfield, the boss of Slack, a messaging company, has been wonderfully unlucky in certain ventures. In 2002, he and a band of colleagues created an online-video game called “Game Neverending”. It never took off, but the tools they used to design it turned into Flickr, the web’s first popular photo-sharing website. Yahoo bought it in 2005 for a reported $35m.考生如果怕自己错过考试成绩查询的话,可以 免费预约短信提醒,届时会以短信的方式提醒大家报名和考试时间。ppB我爱范文库


Four years later Mr. Butterfield tried to create another online game, called Glitch. It flopped as well. But Mr. Butterfield and his team developed an internal messaging system to collaborate on it, which became the basis for Slack. In Silicon Valley, such a change in strategy is called a “pivot”; anywhere else it is called good fortune. Today, Slack is one of the fastest-rising startups around, with $540m in funding and a valuation of around $3.8 billion. “I guess the lesson should be, pursue your dream and hope it fails, so you can do something else,” says Cal Henderson, Slack’s chief technology officer.ppB我爱范文库


It is rare for business software to arouse emotion besides annoyance. But some positively gush about how Slack has simplified office communication. Instead of individual e-mails arriving in a central inbox and requiring attention, Slack structures textual conversations within threads (called “channels”) where groups within firms can update each other in real time. It is casual and reflects how people actually communicate, eschewing e-mail’s outdated formalities, says Chris Becherer of Pandora, an online-music firm that uses Slack.ppB我爱范文库


Its other selling-point is efficiency. A survey of users, admittedly conducted by the firm itself, suggests that team productivity increases by around a third when they start using the software, primarily by reducing internal e-mail and meetings. Slack has decided to open itself up to other apps, becoming a platform by which employees can log into and use other software tools. Today it has 2.7m daily active users, up from 1m last June. Around 800,000 of them are paying subscribers; their firms pay around $80 or more a year for each employee using the service. The firm has $75m in annual recurring revenue and is breaking even, says Mr. Butterfield.ppB我爱范文库


Slack’s rise points to three important changes in the workplace. First, people are completing work across different devices from wherever they are, so they need software that can work seamlessly on mobile devices. Messaging naturally lends itself to this format. Second, communication is becoming more open. Just as offices went from closed, hived-off rooms to open-plan, Slack is the virtual equivalent, fostering a collaborative work environment, says Venkatesh Rao of Ribbonfarm, a consultancy. Slack’s default setting is to make conversations public within a firm.ppB我爱范文库


Third, software firms are trying to automate functions that used to be done by people in order to make employees more productive. Slack has made a big push into “bots”, algorithms that can automate menial tasks which used to be done by humans. Slack offers bots that compile lunch orders and projects’ progress reports, or generate analytics on demand. In the future employees will be able to chat with software agents to get more done, working alongside bots as well as their peers.ppB我爱范文库

第三,软件公司正尝试把以往需要人工处理的职能自动化,借此提高员工的工作效率。Slack已大量运用“机器人”, 这些算法可以自动完成以往需要人工处理的低级工作。Slack提供的机器人服务包括确定午餐订单,编写项目进度报告,以及按需生成分析等。未来,员工将可与“软件员工”对话,与这些机器人和同事并肩工作,取得更多成果。ppB我爱范文库

Mr. Butterfield is not the typical leader of a striving startup. Called “Dharma” by his hippie parents, he spent his early years on a commune with no running water or electricity; he changed his name to Daniel Stewart when he was 12. A self-professed introvert, which is fitting for a company that sells itself on textual communication, he values efficiency and candour. After Yahoo bought Flickr, he worked there for a few years. “Everything was horrible, ugly, slow, difficult to use and confusing,” he says, frankly.ppB我爱范文库


Dharma chameleonppB我爱范文库


In retrospect, Flickr was sold too soon. The sale marked the beginning of the technology industry’s resurgence after its crash in the early 2000s. Now, Mr. Butterfield has a second chance. Investors do not want to see him sell Slack too early. Earlier this year there were reports that Microsoft considered bidding around $8 billion for the company. Mr. Butterfield says that Slack has never received a formal offer from anyone and is planning to go public. Last year it started submitting itself to voluntary audits, in what appears to be preparation for a public debut. But it seems even more likely that a large tech giant will see the strategic value of Slack and try to snap it up first for an even splashier sum.ppB我爱范文库


Mr. Butterfield says that Slack could achieve $10 billion in revenue if it signs up 100m knowledge workers, of which there are around 850m worldwide. That is far easier said than done. For one thing, Slack still needs to woo larger companies outside the technology world. Currently it holds particular appeal among workers at firms in the internet, media and advertising industries, and among teams of software developers within larger firms. Conquering traditional businesses may prove harder. Slack’s yearly minimum of $80 per employee is steep for companies with tens of thousands of workers.ppB我爱范文库


For another, Slack has rising competition to fend off. Already, rival products are taking aim at the market for workplace collaboration, including one, Atlassian, from an Australian software company, which is called HipChat, and bundled with its other services. There is also Symphony, a rival startup backed by several banks that specialises in highly regulated industries such as financial services, which require more compliance controls. Tech giants such as Microsoft, Oracle and Facebook have collaborative work apps, but these are only modestly successful.ppB我爱范文库


Slack’s greatest challenge may be people’s own habits. To some, its endless stream of chatter may be worse even than e-mail, because the barriers to commenting rapidly are lower. The introverted Mr. Butterfield should welcome the chance to appeal to people who do not want constant interaction, even when it comes in textual form.ppB我爱范文库



Semiconductors: Chips on Their ShouldersppB我爱范文库


China wants to become a superpower in semiconductors, and plans to spend colossal sums to achieve thisppB我爱范文库

中国计划投入巨资打造半导体超级大国,考生如果怕自己错过考试成绩查询的话,可以 免费预约短信提醒,届时会以短信的方式提醒大家报名和考试时间。ppB我爱范文库

The Chinese government has been trying, on and off, since the 1970s to build an indigenous semiconductor industry. But its ambitions have never been as high, nor its budgets so big, as they are now. In an earlier big push, in the second half of the 1990s, the government spent less than $1 billion, reckons Morgan Stanley, an American bank. This time, under a grand plan announced in 2014, the government will muster $100 billion-$150 billion in public and private funds.ppB我爱范文库


The aim is to catch up technologically with the world’s leading firms by 2030, in the design, fabrication and packaging of chips of all types, so as to cease being dependent on foreign supplies. In 2015 the government added a further target: within ten years it wants to be producing 70% of the chips consumed by Chinese industry.ppB我爱范文库


It has a long way to go. Last year China’s manufacturers, both domestic and foreign-owned, consumed $145 billion-worth of microchips of all kinds (see chart). But the output of China’s domestic chip industry was only one-tenth of that value. And in some types of high-value semiconductor – the processor chips that are the brains of computers, and the rugged and durable chips that are embedded in cars – virtually all of China’s consumption is imported.ppB我爱范文库


To help them achieve their dream, the authorities realise that they must buy as much foreign expertise as they can lay their hands on. In recent months, state-owned firms and various arms of government have been rushing to buy, invest in or do deals with overseas microchip firms. On January 17th the south-western province of Guizhou announced a joint venture with Qualcomm, an American chip designer, to invest around $280m in setting up a new maker of specialist chips for servers. The province’s investment fund will own 55% of the business. Two days earlier, shareholders in Powertech Technology, a Taiwanese firm that packages and tests chips, agreed to let Tsinghua Unigroup, a state-controlled firm from the mainland, buy a 25% stake for $600m.ppB我爱范文库


Officials argue that developing a home-grown semiconductor industry is a strategic imperative, given the country’s excessive reliance on foreign technology. They can point to the taxpayers’ money that politicians in America, Europe and other parts of Asia have lavished on their domestic semiconductor industries over the years.ppB我爱范文库


China’s microchip trade gap is, by some estimates, only around half of what the raw figures suggest, since a sizeable proportion of the imported chips that Chinese factories consume go into gadgets, such as Apple’s iPhones and Lenovo’s laptops, that are then exported. Even so, a policy of promoting semiconductors fits with the government’s broader policy of moving from labour-intensive manufacturing to higher-added-value, cleaner industries.ppB我爱范文库


Morgan Stanley notes that profit margins for successful semiconductor firms are typically 40% or more, whereas the computers, gadgets and other hardware that they go into often have margins of less than 20%. So if Chinese firms designed and made more of the world’s chips, and one day controlled some of the underlying technical standards, as Intel does with personal-computer and server chips, China would enjoy a bigger share of the global electronics industry’s profits.ppB我爱范文库


In the government’s earlier efforts to boost domestic manufacturing of solar panels and LED lamps, it spread its largesse among a lot of local firms, resulting in excess capacity and slumping prices. This time it seems to be concentrating its firepower on a more limited group of national champions. For instance, SMIC of Shanghai is set to be China’s champion “foundry” (bulk manufacturer of chips designed by others). And HiSilicon of Shenzhen (part of Huawei, a maker of telecoms equipment) will be one of a select few champions in chip design.ppB我爱范文库


Most intriguing of all, Tsinghua Unigroup, a company spun out of Tsinghua University in Beijing, has emerged in the past year or so as the chosen champion among champions, a Chinese challenger to the mighty Intel. Zhao Weiguo, the firm’s boss, started out herding goats and pigs in Xinjiang, a remote province in north-western China, to where his parents had been exiled in the 1950s, having been labelled as dissidents. After moving to Beijing to study at the university, Mr. Zhao made a fortune in electronics, property and natural resources, before becoming chairman and second-largest shareholder (after the university itself) at Tsinghua Unigroup.ppB我爱范文库


The company’s emergence from obscurity began in 2013 when it spent $2.6 billion buying two Chinese chip-design firms, Spreadtrum and RDA Microelectronics. In 2014 Intel bought a 20% stake in its putative future rival, for $1.5 billion, as part of a plan for the two to work together on chips for mobile devices, an area in which Intel has lagged behind. In May last year Tsinghua spent $2.3 billion to buy a 51% stake in H3C, a Hong Kong subsidiary of Hewlett-Packard that makes data-networking equipment. And in November it announced a $13 billion share placement to finance the building of a giant memory-chip plant.ppB我爱范文库


Shopping for silicon savvyppB我爱范文库


Other Chinese firms have also been splashing out. Jiangsu Changjiang, a firm that packages chips, paid $1.8 billion in 2014 to gain control of STATS ChipPac, a Singaporean outfit in the same line of business. In 2015 state-controlled JianGuang Asset Management paid a similar sum for a division of NXP of the Netherlands, which makes specialist chips for cell-phone base stations. A group led by China Resources Holdings, another state enterprise, has made a $2.5 billion takeover bid for Fairchild Semiconductor International, an American firm. But the undisputed leader of the “national team” buying up foreign chip know-how is Tsinghua.ppB我爱范文库


“Many people suspect I’m a ‘white glove’ for the government,” Mr. Zhao declared recently, “but we’re really just a very market-oriented company.” That somewhat understates the official backing that it clearly enjoys: without this, it is hard to imagine the company affording the 300 billion yuan ($45 billion) that Mr. Zhao says Tsinghua plans to spend on further deals over the next five years.ppB我爱范文库

“许多人怀疑我是政府的’白手套’,” 赵伟国最近宣称,“但我们真的只是非常市场化的公司。”这么说多少淡化了紫光集团享受的政府支持,而这种支持显而易见,否则难以想象该公司要如何像赵伟国所说的,负担3000亿元(450亿美元)来完成未来五年的进一步收购计划。ppB我爱范文库

Chinese approaches to foreign semiconductor firms – unlike its firms’ acquisitions of foreign consumer brands – have not always met with a warm reception. Tsinghua reportedly made a $23 billion bid last year for Micron, a big American maker of DRAM – the type of memory chips used to store data on desktop computers and servers. But the bid faltered because of political opposition. The firm’s overtures to SK Hynix, a South Korean maker of DRAM and flash-memory chips (as used in USB sticks and smartphones), were rebuffed in November. In December Tsinghua bought a 25% stake in Siliconware Precision Industries (SPIL), a Taiwanese chip packager and tester. The resulting political backlash prompted Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASE), a bigger Taiwanese chip packager, to launch a takeover bid for SPIL in December. Tsai Ing-wen, the main opposition candidate in Taiwan’s presidential election, declared China’s investments in the island’s chip firms a “very big threat” – and on polling day, January 16th, she emerged the victor.ppB我爱范文库


As to whether China will realise its ambitions, or whether it will continue to be dependent on foreign chip technology, Taiwan’s own experience is instructive. From the 1980s, it was highly successful in developing world-class chip foundries, such as TSMC, and in cultivating sparky designers of processor chips such as MediaTek. But in part that was because of good timing: the chip industry was moving towards a model of separating the design and the fabrication of chips, and Taiwan successfully rode that trend. But its more recent attempt to be big in memory chips was a disaster. Mark Li of Sanford C. Bernstein, a research firm, reckons that despite $50 billion in capital expenditure during the late 1990s and 2000s, mostly financed by the government, Taiwanese firms met with “en masse failure in memory.”ppB我爱范文库


These firms lost further fortunes chasing market share. From 2001 to 2010, the global memory-chip business made $8 billion in aggregate profits – but subtract the two successful South Korean makers, Samsung and SK Hynix, and everyone else lost nearly $13 billion. Despite their vast outlays, reckons Mr. Li, Taiwanese firms spent too little to reach the technology frontier and were expecting profits too early.ppB我爱范文库


Douglas Fuller of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou argues that the maturing of the global semiconductor industry in recent years will make it harder still for China to crack. The incumbents in memory chips have become entrenched, especially after recent consolidation; and the chips themselves, with their associated software, are becoming much more complex, making it harder for Chinese firms to master them. ASE’s chief operating officer, Tien Wu, adds that Taiwanese firms were entering the chip market at a time when it was enjoying heady expansion; it will be more difficult for Chinese firms to succeed at a time of slow growth.ppB我爱范文库





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