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iKala Future Talks

International Business Plan under Globalization – Part 2

Many people say that there is not only a "protective sacred mountain" of semiconductors in Taiwan, but startups are showing an endless stream of energy to form a range of protective mountains today. The energy is not only blooming everywhere in Taiwan, but actively expanding overseas. The topic we are going to discuss today is international business planning under globalization, and we are glad to have Minister of the National Development Council, Kung Ming-Hsin, and iKala's Co-Founder and CEO Sega Cheng with us.

Here are some highlights from their conversations.

When it comes to entering overseas markets, what are the key practices and mindsets of iKala?

Cheng: I think the key point is that we should realize the complexity of each market. It is not just about geopolitics, but in the digital age, customers are putting more focus on the quality of products and services, and there is a growing demand for customized service. When we are entering a new market, we should look at each of them separately, to analyze its status quo and evaluate its local internet speed. Whether it is suitable for our digital products? The first thing is that we have to make sure the business model in Taiwan can be duplicated to that market. The second is that we have to do some localization. Thirdly, we will consider the way to attract local talents. This is especially important because the evolution of digital products goes very fast. In other words, we must have a local product manager to tell us about the local users, so that we can optimize our product as quickly as possible. Otherwise, local competitors may surpass us because they understand the habits of local users better. Even in our Taiwan headquarters, we must have talents who are familiar with different markets and different countries. In particular, we welcome Taiwanese new immigrants and foreign talents to join us, because they know the international market and they can bring new ideas to us. I think this is something that is very important for startups in the process of globalization, and we must pay attention to it.

The National Development Council has launched the Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan since 2016, and there is a Taiwan national startup brand, Startup Island TAIWAN. What are the future prospects of these policies? What are the results so far?

Kung: We started the Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan in 2016, hoping to build up connections with Silicon Valley, and introduce the business model and innovation ideas of their startups. There is a great foundation of Taiwan's industries. If we can further make some connections with Silicon Valley, I think it would be beneficial to our local industry. 

Since funding is one of the most important parts for startups, we have implemented some measures on it. From angel funding, match funds for venture capital, to a national venture capital firm, we provide assistance of funding in different stages. Take angel funding for example, starting from 2018, we have invested in more than two hundred cases, and the amount we have invested has exceeded two billion. We have even allocated more than 3 billion recently, and will allocate up to 10 billion in the future. We hope to increase the amount of startup investment, so that the ecosystem can be big enough. Secondly, we help those we have invested to scale up. Scale up, in other words, is to promote them to the international market. Also, there are two new boards proposed by TWSE and TPEx for innovative enterprises, Taiwan Innovation Board and Pioneer Stock Board, one for listing and the other for OTC listing. This is also a revolutionary initiative. In the past, the criteria for listing and OTC listing were very strict. Only if you can make a profit for a few consecutive years can you be listed, but you know that business models of many startups are not like this. They are still in the stage of investing money. And we must allow business models like this to have the opportunity to grow. 

As for the cultivation of talents, we passed a revision to the Act for the Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professionals, offering more incentives and relaxing the restrictions to attract more international talents to work in Taiwan. We've issued more than 3,000 Employment Gold Cards. As long as one obtains the Employment Gold Card, he can come to Taiwan before finding a job. Our connection with Silicon Valley is continuously expanding from stage to stage. The first stage is the older generation. Those who went to Silicon Valley in the very beginning may be in their 50s or 60s, and they had a sense of mission to give back to their hometown. Then they came back to Taiwan. The second generation is like Steve Chen, who is in his 40s. He had a successful career in the United States, then came back to Taiwan with an Employment Gold Card. He also started to do venture capital here, and link resources between Taiwan and Silicon Valley. I hope we can build up more connections in the next generation. This way, we can keep pace with Silicon Valley when it comes to business innovation. 

The National Development Council is also promoting the policy of developing Taiwan into a Bilingual Nation. Whether you want to recommend your product or your solution to the world, being bilingual is very important. We actually asked the British Council  to deliver tests on junior high and senior high third graders to evaluate their English skills. The result finds that on average, our high school third graders are fairing in English proficiency compared to European countries, but we score low in speaking and writing. This is why in other countries, maybe the product is not as good as imagined, it can sometimes be exaggerated. We are just the opposite: having perfect skills, but failing to speak it all out. The policy of developing Taiwan into a Bilingual Nation is definitely of great help to us in expanding to the international market. 

Finally, the NEXT BIG representative nomination, and the effort we put in Startup Island TAIWAN, is all about pushing outstanding startups in Taiwan to go overseas in the past few years. This is what we are doing now.

How can startups team up with the government to face international competition?

Cheng: Being selected for Startup Island TAIWAN's NEXT BIG has already helped us a lot. Especially when facing a country like Japan, which puts so much emphasis on honesty, goodwill, connection and endorsement, startups really need the help from the government. In terms of internationalization, the foreign language proficiency of our talents are actually not bad, but there is a lack of story-telling ability. I think that Taiwanese people should be more brave to tell stories, and promote their own products and services. The Bilingual Nation policy will have a great impact on Taiwan in the next few decades. Whether a language is strong depends on how many people in the world speak the same language as you. English and Spanish are still the largest, but perhaps in the future, when Southeast Asia rises, we will have new languages to learn, such as Indonesian. Our next generation and the generation after that will become more and more internationalized. I think this is what we have been talking about: the hope to stay at home and look at the world. I think this is very critical.

What are the future prospects of both organizations?

Kung: In addition to the previous version 2.0 of 5+2 Innovative Industries Program, we now have Six Core Strategic Industries. I would like to invite all startups to join and make some efforts together. In the post-epidemic world, the first and most important thing is digital transformation, so digital transformation is included in both the 5+2 Innovative Industries Program and Six Core Strategic Industries. In the longer term, we also value environmental sustainability. Many countries have begun to set a goal for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This is also a disruptive innovation, which startups are good at, and this is what I think we can work on together.

Cheng: Digital transformation happens to be what we are expert in. This year, both internally and externally, we are more active. Externally, we follow the national team to bring our good solutions to Japan and Southeast Asia. While in our hometown, we are putting in more resources because we have found more opportunities. Especially under the pandemic, the integration of software and hardware begins. People start to think about the way to go digital and undergo digital transformation. Notwithstanding the worldwide pandemic, the world economy has not stopped, or even has accelerated. There is no better place than Taiwan to discuss digital transformation, because we have both hardware and software industries. Therefore, we have recently strengthened our efforts, firstly to hire more people to assist the traditional manufacturing industry and retail industry  to seek digital transformation opportunities. Secondly, we started to carry out CSR projects this year, aiming at local retailers affected by the pandemic. We started to introduce some solutions that can help them undergo digital transformation right away. In sum, iKala is now paying more attention to our hometown while maintaining international operations. I think this is a very good timing for Taiwanese startups.

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International Business Plan under Globalization – Part 1

Many people say that there is not only a "protective sacred mountain" of semiconductors in Taiwan, but startups are showing an endless stream of energy to form a range of protective mountains today. The energy is not only blooming everywhere in Taiwan, but actively expanding overseas. The topic we are going to discuss today is international business planning under globalization, and we are glad to have Minister of the National Development Council, Kung Ming-Hsin, and iKala's Co-Founder and CEO Sega Cheng with us.

Here are some highlights from their conversations.

What are the driving factors of innovation and entrepreneurship in Taiwan?

Kung: Taiwan has paid great attention to innovation and R&D in the industry, so that is why WEF and IMD both speak highly of our innovation ability. We have great innovation clusters, the supply chain, the research and development system, and the industry. The ecosystem is quite complete when it comes to the production side. In terms of talents, a lot of foreign investors give high opinions of our technical capabilities, especially that of engineers. What's also important is that Taiwanese people are very loyal to work, bringing us more positive feedback. Thirdly, the vitality of the people. You can see that there are some startup communities that are very active in Taiwan recently. Moreover, Taiwan Government launched the Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan in 2016, forging connections with Silicon Valley. That's why we can see more connections between innovation and entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley and Taiwan, and this further helps startups in Taiwan understand the trend internationally. Also, the government has been reviewing its policies of providing early-stage funding for startups, putting in place incentives for angel investors, match funding, and founding a venture capital firm, Taiwania Capital. The Financial Supervisory Commission even established Taiwan Innovation Board and Pioneer Stock Board to facilitate startups in raising funds on the capital market, which I believe do good to startups.

What is the role of startups in Taiwan's economic development? What are the key industries when we are talking about startups?

Kung: We have a very unique definition of a startup. Not all new companies can be treated as a startup. A startup means new ideas, innovations, or it is formed in a startup community, an accelerator, etc. I think it plays a more active role than in the past. A quick example is that we have been promoting the Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan, to shape a smart city, and boost the innovation for the internet of things, we now have a complete ecosystem. From sensors, gateways and servers, and user applications, we used to be a good original equipment manufacturer, but we failed to provide comprehensive solutions. Traditionally, whether it is a SME or an enterprise, they are less accustomed to doing such things, but startups are different. Startups have fewer limitations, and they are eager to try, and to understand the pain points of consumers and users. Although they are relatively small, they will try to leverage other resources. In that way, for Taiwan, startups play a key role in upgrading or transformation of the industry.This aligned to my own observations. In the past, from PC, mobile, to the IoT era, some considered that we didn't have too many competitive advantages in the mobile era, and blamed it on the limited space in Taiwan, saying that it is difficult to develop a platform. However, after the development of the past few years, facts have proved that this is not the case. A lot of startups in Taiwan, including iKala, are developing their own platforms. Another example, KKday, is a well-developed platform in tourism that started from Taiwan, to Japan, to Southeast Asia, that is the case for iKala and some other startups as well. So I would say, as long as there is such an environment or opportunity, I believe that these startups have the ability to grow and demonstrate their innovations.

What is the key to success for startups?

Cheng: I think the most important thing about a startup is resilience, which can also be used to describe Taiwan. Taiwan is surrounded by the sea, and we have limited resources, but we can have a "protective sacred mountain" of semiconductors, and then we can now develop another startup economy. iKala has come to its tenth anniversary, and we've kept the same spirit throughout the past ten years. We have gone through several transformations. Undergoing transformation is a big deal for a company, both internally and externally, so the foundation and the culture of the company would be very important. One great role model is Acer. Acer is adapting to this digital age with constant transformation, and it remains to be an internationally renowned Taiwanese brand today. 

I often ask myself, if I could turn back the clock, what should I do first? My answer is finding a good business model. There are so many innovation and entrepreneurship activities in Taiwan in recent years. Everyone considers that with the advancement of technology, there would be many interesting topics to come. With mere enthusiasm, people start their own businesses, forming a team, raising funds, but failing to think clearly about the business model. Taiwanese have always been very good professionals. We are very good at solving problems, but we sometimes fail to raise questions, define business models and new markets. If this could happen again, I will look more carefully at my business model, and take the reference of both at home and abroad, especially looking at the more advanced European and American markets. Don't just do it as you like, and not figure out a feasible business model. This would be a waste of time.

How do you look at the international business planning of Taiwanese startups? What are the advantages of Taiwan?

Kung: Different companies may have different business models, but I can simply list some categories here. The first category includes platforms like iKala, Pinkoi and KKday. After a success in the Taiwan market, they continue to expand to Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia. An online platform is not limited to physical distance, and can reach people everywhere, through the Internet. Another category is the integration of software and hardware. It should be a team battle, or say "Team Taiwan". We used to call for proposals for smart cities in the Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan and participate in the smart city exhibition. Some participants from Southeast Asia want to introduce the solution after seeing it in the exhibition. In the past few years, more than 40 of them have been delivered all over the world. We really hope that everyone can gather greater strength and bring this smart city total solution to other countries in the world. 

Cheng: What the Minister said reminds me of Israel, the country in the desert. It is a country in a difficult situation, but it can become a big exporter of agricultural products to Europe—by using intelligent technology. People often say that Taiwan has a small population and a small market. I think that it becomes your limitation when you only look at Taiwan, so we should be like Israel, start by looking at the international market. In the digital age, there is no more physical boundary, especially under the pandemic, everyone is paying attention to digital products. This turned out to be a good opportunity for Taiwan, because even those who did not focus on digital transformation and digitization started to look for good digital solutions. Taiwan has always been a country with a solid foundation, from the textile industry, electronics, to semiconductors, we have a very strong hardware industry. In the past ten years, to us startups, we sometimes feel far away from those traditional enterprises. True, because the distance between hardware and software was a bit far from the beginning, but now companies as traditional hardware and semiconductors are actually undergoing digital transformation. Leaders or business owners in these traditional industries in Taiwan can regard startups as an external innovation team. We even noticed recently that Taiwan's large companies seem to be willing to invest in some startups in the past few years, and then go overseas with them. Startups as an external innovation team of big enterprise, this is where synergy comes from. 

Taiwanese actually do business all over the world in the very beginning, the so-called "going all over the world with just one suitcase". And we just come to another turning point of the digital era. This time, we don't even need to carry a suitcase. We just need to contact the media in Eastern Europe, build up connections with the Japanese market, and we can deliver our products. I think this is a very good opportunity for Taiwan. Taiwanese are very conservative and honest, sometimes we deserve to have 80 or 90 points, but we are too modest to speak it out. I think Taiwanese people are relatively introverted in brand management. We are taking important roles in the supply chain, but we never say that we are vital to the world. When we are building digital brands in the future, I think the concept of branding should be highlighted and now is a turning point for Taiwan to move from behind the scenes to the stage.

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The Latest Innovations in Artificial Intelligence – Part 2

According to IDC, the artificial intelligence market is expected to break the $500 billion mark by 2024, with a five-year CAGR of 17.5%. What are the top AI innovations in 2021? When AI is revolutionizing and transforming human society, how can we respond to the challenge and benefit from AI? 

Here are some highlights from iKala Co-founder & CEO Sega Cheng's sharing.

Privacy & Security

An online questionnaire conducted by MIT in 2018 raised a question that if an autonomous vehicle is about to hit a pedestrian on the way, whether it should save the young or the old? The result of this survey showed the cultural differences between the East and the West. It is clear that the eastern countries are mostly on the right of the chart. On the left are western countries which emphasize independence, and the importance of young people and the future of newborns. In the same moral choice of AI, people in different countries have completely different opinions. That's why AI faces so many moral issues.

There is one more local example. The year before last, Taiwan Railway introduced a smart surveillance camera, mainly to prevent crime, which caused a very serious human-rights controversy at the time. The main technology used was AI facial recognition. There is a group of people who argue that facial recognition is very good to deter crime, so it must be used unconditionally, but some feel that privacy is infringed, others feel that there should firstly be a balance between privacy and crime detection, then the technology can be widely adopted. What we are facing is the contradictory of "individual's right to privacy" and "public's right to know". These two things are constantly raising controversy due to the development of technology.

Back to the industry, the tracking of digital ads is widely adopted by advertisers, but some users have negative feelings about it. Therefore, several digital giants have responded to and improved on this. For example, Google promises to gradually phase out third-party cookies, the new Android system will start to allow users to block advertiser's tracking ID to prevent it from tracking specific customers, and Apple updates its privacy policy that tracking ID on users' phones are blocked by default. 

In this privacy-conscious world, how are we going to continue to develop in machine learning and AI? One of them is called Federated Learning. Its main concept is that I can see the whole picture without looking at an individual. In other words, I can still understand what the users' interests may be, without identifying who he is. What we did in the past is that we have to detect individuals and groups. The privacy-based machine learning technology is about behaviors of a group of people instead of a single person, and Google is the first company to unveil the technology, and it is now using this technology to train some of their models. This is how people develop AI in a world where privacy rights are rising.

Looking at the responses of various countries, the European Union is the most active player. Starting from the GDPR, California, Brazil, and South Africa have all proposed their own data protection and privacy rights regulations. Now companies in various countries who want to do cross-border online business are actually adapting to the laws and regulations of various governments. Therefore, the laws and regulations of various governments and the response of technology giants to privacy rights, have shaped the future business world.

Deep Fake

Take a look at the four pictures on this screen. Can you suspect anything unusual in these four pictures? I think most people think it's photos of dogs, landscapes, butterflies, and burgers. In fact, what is important is that these four pictures do not exist. They are not photos taken by real cameras, but completely synthesized by the computer. The technology was developed by DeepMind in 2018. This highlights a very important issue, especially in 2021. Seeing is not believing. When you see anything on the Internet, or in any other places, you have to be skeptical to find out whether it is true. This is a very big impact of AI. But we can still give an example here, of the same technology being used in the business world, for good.

Picaas is a technology developed by iKala, mainly used for image editing. The problem it solves is very simple. When we get a product image with some logos or taglines on it, some covering the product itself, most of us will ask the designer to retouch the image. But now, AI can help. The left is the image before editing, and the right is the picture retouched by Picaas. It improves the productivity of designers. Originally, it took about ten minutes to process a picture, but now with AI, it can be processed in 2.2 seconds, and there is little work to be done by designers. It greatly reduces some of our repetitive work in image editing.

Data

How does Tesla train its autonomous car? In fact, it is a model of machine learning that collects a large amount of data when people are driving, sends all the data back to their data center, and deploys the data back to every car to make self-driving safer. It can be considered as a decentralized training model. When you are driving a Tesla, you are actually training it at the same time, and you can help other Tesla owners. However, there is an issue in it. Whether the data is Tesla's or mine? This will bring a lot of controversy. Why not use an even simpler example to explain why the issue is not easy to solve.

The farmer and the beekeeper are actually in an interesting cooperative relationship, because the farmer needs his crops to be pollinated by bees; on the other hand, the beekeeper needs to sell his honey. They have different needs, but are dependent on each other. Now the problem comes, under such a relationship, who is going to pay? The answer is that the farmer has to pay the beekeeper because the farmer is more dependent on him. 

Why can they make such a transaction? There are two main reasons why the pollination market can operate like this? The first one is that the transaction cost is low. The beekeeper provides pollination services and gets more honey, then crops of the farmer grow better. It is easy for them to reach a consensus. The second is that they have a clear ownership of their assets. Beekeepers own bees and what they need is honey. What farmers want is for his crops to grow vigorously. Therefore, they are clear about the ownership of these assets, which caused their transactions to be completed. In Economics, this is called the Coase Theorem, firstly introduced in 1966. 

One more example that may be easier for everyone to understand recently is the matter of vaccination. If I am a person who should get a vaccination, do I have to pay others for not getting vaccinated, or people have to pay to get me vaccinated, in order to prevent me from causing more damage to society? The externality that the Coase Theorem is talking about is that both options work, but still controversies exist.

The problem of data is quite similar. Whether enterprises can freely use the data because of human goods, or the data should be treated as a personal asset, and can be transacted? From the example of Tesla, we have seen such a problem of data ownership. Whether the data is yours will be an important issue to be discussed in the coming years.

Explainable AI

When AI makes more and more decisions for us,inevitably many people will be curious about the way it makes decisions. The problems can be big and small. For example, when we buy books on Amazon, AI will recommend some books we want to read. At this time, we may accept it with pleasure, and then take a look at what it recommends. But we don't care too much about why AI knows our preferences. We consider it as a normal customer journey, with AI helping us, and recommending the books to us. This is a relatively positive application of AI.

In some cases, such as bank loans, there will be some controversies that humans hope AI can explain how the machine makes decisions. In 2018, the European Union proposed a regulation of "the right to explanation", empowering its people to ask companies to explain how the machine makes decisions, especially when facing some automation decisions. As you can imagine, when we humans make decisions, it is already difficult to explain what the context of our thinking may be, and that's the same for machines. This is the so-called "Black box AI" in the field of AI. Many scholars and developers are trying to respond to the governments' protection of human rights and hope to strike a balance between AI development and human life.

 

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The Latest Innovations in Artificial Intelligence – Part 1

According to IDC, the artificial intelligence market is expected to break the $500 billion mark by 2024, with a five-year CAGR of 17.5%. What are the top AI innovations in 2021? When AI is revolutionizing and transforming human society, how can we respond to the challenge and benefit from AI? 

Here are some highlights from iKala Co-founder & CEO Sega Cheng's sharing.

Challenges of Adopting AI

From our previous experience, one of the pain points of people adopting AI is that they spend more than half of the time processing data. In the first half of the project, people should spend a lot of time and effort on cleansing, labeling or even augmentation of data; while AI models and algorithms only account for a small proportion of time. We find that there are still entry barriers for many enterprises to adopt AI. 

AI came out around 1960s. As you can see from this curve, the time and cost we spend in training AI systems have been increasing. You can find that after the boost of deep learning in 2010, the whole curve is reversed. We once doubled our computing power to train better AI systems every two years, but it turned out to double every three to four months after 2010. That is why "cost" has been a major concern for the industry when adopting AI and making further breakthroughs on it.

Key Developments in AI

Stanford University  released the "2021 AI Index Report" that excerpted highlights of AI's development around the world.

  1. AI investment in 2020 is 4.5 times higher than 2019, probably because of COVID-19, people invest in AI research focusing on pharmaceutical and biomedicine. Investment on drugs, drug discovery and molecular research in 2020 sees a massive increase.
  2. From 2019, 65% of graduating PhDs in AI went into the industry, compared to 44% a decade ago, when deep learning just began to emerge.
  3. AI has a certain creative ability that can compose text, audio, and images.
  4. AI is now facing a diversity challenge in researchers and industry workers. In the United States, 45% of resident AI PhD graduates were white.
  5. The AI industry in China has been developing rapidly in recent years due to the large amount of data from its government. China has surpassed the United States in the total number of journal publications for the first time in 2020. However, the United States has consistently more AI journal citations and conference papers than China over the last decade. We can tell that China and the United States are firing on all cylinders for AI.
  6. In the United States, international students in the AI field rise to 64.3%, and this proportion continues to increase.
  7. Surveillance technologies have evolved quickly in the past two years, mainly because the accuracy of computer vision has exceeded that of human eyes in 2017. Governments are also adopting different kinds of surveillance technologies, and this raises some ethics problems and social issues.
  8. As AI is under rapid development, the discussion of public policies and personal privacy just began in the past few years, so that AI ethics lacks benchmarks and consensus.
  9. AI finally gained the attention of the US Congress. The 116th Congress is the most AI-focused congressional session in history, paying great attention to the international development of the US internet giant companies. In addition, many congressional hearings related to AI and digital technology were raised.

AI's Impact on Jobs

Looking back to the last two decades, some scholars began to investigate on how susceptible are jobs to computerization as computers and artificial intelligence become more and more mature in 2013. The left side in this picture stands for relatively unaffected work and the right for high-risk ones. We can see that those on the left are jobs related to management, computer skills, education, and health care, which require some soft skills so that it would be hard for them to be replaced by computers. However, for these red areas on the right, it may be jobs of manufacturing, transportation, or even agriculture, forestry and fisheries, which machines can easily involve in their work, and they are classified as high-risk jobs.

On the left of this chart, we found that like telemarketers may be at high risk of being replaced by machines, but if you look upwards, like the entertainment industry, even clergy and religious personnel will probably never be replaced. Therefore, automation plays different roles in different job functions. AI can almost do what humans can do to a certain extent, so the key point is whether the work is repetitive, and the automation brought about by repetition.

Besides replacing jobs, AI also creates new jobs. A PwC study in 2018 indicates that in the UK over the next two decades, in the area of health care, there will be more jobs created than replaced. 

A Double-Disruption Scenario for Workers

The World Economic Forum actually released a report last year. The impact of the epidemic is actually a double blow. Business owners will start to consider reducing manpower, and consider office automation to further cut costs and survive the pandemic. The overall environment is ever changing due to the pandemic, and there is a high degree of uncertainty, so at this time, 41.8% of business owners will begin to increase the use of contractors.

Vital Skills in the Future

When Harvard Business Review asked managers what the most important skills in the future are, most of them answered "digital technology", but in fact, the real situation is that social skills, the ability to interact with people, guide, teach, and cooperate with each other is underestimated.

Even in the field of mathematics, for mathematicians with social skills and those without social skills, there's a gap of up to 15% between the average salary they get. This is an example of why we should pay more attention to social skills in the AI era.

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Future Talents

future talents

While innovative talents are considered the driving force for the economy, how can we resolve Taiwan's brain drain problem? How can schools, enterprises and the government work together to cultivate innovative talents?

In iKala Future Talks this week, we invite Dr. Robin Bing-Yu Chen, Director of D-School (School of Design and Innovation) at National Taiwan University, and Neil Huang, CDO of iKala, to share their ideas of cultivating future talents. 

Here are some highlights from their conversations.

Closing the Talent Gap in Contemporary Society

Neil: A survey indicates that in recent years, due to the declining birthrate, the expanding production capacity of Taiwan's local technology manufacturers and competition in the global talent market, it is estimated that by 2030, in the Information and Communication Technology industry, there will be a talent gap of 83,000 people. The Minister of Science and Technology mentioned this problem in an interview before, saying that the solution to the talent gap problem is to cultivate cross-disciplinary talents. People who major in humanities and social sciences should know more about information technology, and enhance their digital skills. On the other hand, those with engineering and manufacturing background also need to understand humanities and society, so that innovation may occur. 

Robin: I think cultivating cross-disciplinary talents, or the so-called T-shaped talents is indeed a trend. What we encounter in modern society has become more complicated. When we faced problems in the past, we may be able to disassemble it into a very simple problem, and it can be solved by a single engineer. We are now facing a world of the unknown. Instead of a talent who is good at problem-solving, we need more that can define problems.

Neil: This reminds me of The Law of Raspberry Jam by Gerald Weinberg. Imagine that you dig a pile of jam and spread it on toast. The larger the area of toast you have to spread, the thinner the jam would be. In the end, it becomes so thin that the jam disappears. When we are pursuing the cultivation of cross-disciplinary talents, we may accidentally fall into this myth—Jacks of all trades and masters of none. What is your point of view to this contradiction of the breadth and depth of learning?

Robin: We are actually pursuing a diversified way of education in the future. In other words, all things in their being are good for something. There's no need to encourage every student to become a T-shaped talent. If we can make the education system more flexible and diversified, life will always find its way. I think this so-called T-shaped, instead of saying that you need to know a lot of different things, we would rather say that the horizontal bar of the T stands for the changing mindset, or the ability to communicate.

The Cultivation of Talents in Schools and Enterprises

Neil: According to the statistics from the Ministry of Education, in the past five years, the rate of drop-out has actually been at a record high, and in the past two years, about one out of every four students will take a suspension or termination of studies. The main reason for this is "Incompatible interest". Does it mean that we now have some urgent problems in higher education that need to be solved? Or should it be considered a positive phenomenon, because everyone is taking his career plan seriously, rather than blindly pursuing a diploma?

Robin: I have mixed feelings about this issue. From a positive point of view, more and more young people have their own ideas. It can be attributed to, or you can say blamed on, the current development of the media and information. They now know what the outside world looks like, so their goal is no longer "graduation", but something bigger. However, there are quite a lot of negative phenomena. Our current university education, environment, or institution cannot fit young people now and in the future. When we are asking our talents to adapt to the environment, whether our institution can keep pace with the times would be a question we need to think about when facing university education.

Neil: In terms of the industry, take iKala for example, we implement internship programs. Our first internship program last year was actually very interesting. The youngest intern is a high school third-grader, and there are also some interns from Stanford University and MIT. During their internship, they completed projects such as automatic crawling and social analysis. I think they all did a good job. In addition to internship programs, what can enterprises do to bridge the gap between industry, university and institute, and make the environment in Taiwan more friendly for our future talents?

Robin: What we talked about frequently is the university-industry gap. We hope students have more connections with the industry. There are two major benefits to this: One is shortening the so-called learning-doing gap, so that students can understand what they are learning for, or whether they can apply what they learn to their work. Another is that many students, before entering university or in the process of studying at a university, are actually very confused about their future. Therefore, we encourage them to do career exploration during university or even before university. I think this is what enterprises can help with.

2020 iKala Internship Program

Challenges of Talent Cultivation

Robin: The biggest challenge would be motivation in learning. We often say that you can simply think of one thing you want to do. It may not necessarily be related to traditional learning. It may be just a self-practice, or a self-exploration. Instead of saying what you should actually learn in university, I feel that if you can find your motivation to study, cultivate the ability to learn, and even develop a habit to learn independently, it would be helpful in the future. 

Neil: What you mentioned just now is similar to the real situation in the industry. If a company has so many regulations, and an employee can only do things after the boss's approval, then he is likely to lose his motivation. At iKala, we value our people. We think the people here shape the company's culture, and the culture affects the result of our work, our business decisions, and whether we can be innovative. We also care about diversity in the workplace, including a diverse professional background, and people with different nationalities. We also want to create a free and flexible working environment, so we always talk about "freedom and responsibility" at iKala. We hope that everyone can be responsible for his work, at the same time having enough space to make decisions on their own in the front line, and the flexibility to grow and develop in the company.

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