A coffee with Ren Zhengfei, Huawei founder - Mobile World Live

A coffee with Ren Zhengfei, Huawei founder

01 OCT 2019

Ren Zhengfei, Huawei founder and CEO, held a second panel discussion with media at the company’s headquarters in Shenzhen last week, with special guests American computer scientist Jerry Kaplan and former CTO of British Telecom Peter Cochrane. It was the latest in a series of efforts by the troubled vendor to appear more “transparent” in front of the media.

Mobile World Live has already covered a major element of the event in our story citing Zhengfei’s comments on licensing its 5G technology, but here’s some extra tidbits of information that came out of the 90-minute conversation between the trio.

Open mind
Ren said people should be more openminded and tolerant about emerging technologies, such as 5G and AI. If not, he worries it could slow the pace of development back to that during “medieval times”.

“New technology always has caused scepticism, but over time it decreases. People should be trusting of new things. We shouldn’t block the progress of new technologies.”

Ren noted that mistrust is generally caused by a lack of knowledge and understanding, which he acknowledged will take time to overcome.

Tech decoupling
Kaplan insisted a technology split between the US and China would be a “terrible economic travesty” for both countries, but noted if restricted to 5G the fallout “is a surmountable problem. It’s not the end of the world”.

Cochrane said he doesn’t think a decoupling of standards is sustainable and would be very expensive.

“If we have a small market, prices will be much higher as the cost of development will be much higher. The reality is not the US, not Europe, not China, India nor Russia, have got all the resources, technology, manufacturing facilities and knowhow in country – we are in a global market and we are dependent on each other. I don’t think the politicians understand the technology, the globalisations or the markets, otherwise they would not do such stupid things,” he said.

If the world did split into two technology camps, Cochrane said there is no question China and its customers would win, noting the US represents less than 4 per cent of the world’s population – “Where are people going to go?”

Trust
Regarding the mistrust of 5G in general and Huawei gear specially, Cochrane said it’s “totally distorted”, noting there is no distrust between engineers, scientists,  managers or the companies. “The issue is political. It has nothing to do with the technology or the people working on it.”

He said there were similar fears with 3G and 4G, but the difference is that today social networks empower such ideas and other conspiracy theories. “People associate truth with quantity.”

“There has been no concerted effort by the industry to allay people’s fears – we should be doing that. There is no proven problem with these technologies.”

Winners and losers
Kaplan argued that most of the value of AI is in the data, with software programs used to analyse and find patterns in very large collections of data.

He said there is a myth that AI is some kind of international competition. “It’s not. It’s a big myth, and the investment and worries governments have are completely misplaced. It’s like asking who is going win in the movie industry: American films or Chinese films? It’s not like with nuclear energy, where you can bottle it up and have a unique advantage. There will not be a winner with AI.”

Kaplan said AI, like other forms of automation, will be a force for increasing wealth and inequality, noting: “What we need to do is stop thinking about our social policy as being in the service of economics and start thinking about economic policy as being in the service of the social goals for society. We should be trying to maximise overall happiness, not trying to build GDP solely for the benefit of a few.”

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Joseph Waring

Joseph Waring joins Mobile World Live as the Asia editor for its new Asia channel. Before joining the GSMA, Joseph was group editor for Telecom Asia for more than ten years. In addition to writing features, news and blogs, he...

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