Prof. Sang Kyun Cha, A war for AI talents where even 3 billion won and the SNU title are useless(Electronic Times, 20190703)

2019-08-09l Hit 431

SNU Big Data Institute Director Sang Kyun Cha… “Grave crisis”


The title of ‘SNU’, the top university in Korea, and 3 billion won are both no good when it comes to attracting AI talents. SNU Big Data Institute Director Sang Kyun Cha has repeatedly undertaken business trips to search for new faculty for SNU’s AI section. Recently, he has again returned empty-handed.

Director Cha confided, saying, “I offered 3 billion won collected from funds to gather talented individuals in the AI field, but was turned down. I told people to come here as a SNU professor and that we would provide them with 3 billion won to conduct their research for 5~7 years without being bothered. Their answer was ‘no’.”

After several trips to the U.S. to gather AI talents, Director Cha realized that it was impossible to attract people with the usual annual salary. Afterwards, he collected AI funds of 3 billion won from entrepreneur sponsors. Even this failed.

Director Cha will again mount the challenge to gather talents after raising funds worth 10 billion won. He commented, “We need at least 5 billion won to bring talented individuals to universities in Korea. I am again raising funds for 10 billion won.” Director Cha aims to bring together the world’s top faculty in the AI field for the SNU Data Science Graduate School (서울대 데이터사이언스 대학원), which will be launched next year.

Director Cha revealed that the government’s AI related budget was seriously limited. The Ministry of Science and ICT invested 2 billion won to each AI graduate school this year. KAIST, Korea University, and Sungkyunkwan University were chosen. By the end of this year, two universities will be added to the list.

Director Cha urged that the government realize the gravity of the situation and give a boost to the investment in the AI field. “Could a country that can’t even invest in the AI field be considered a proper country?” he wondered out loud.

He emphasized that now was the last ‘golden time’ to raise the competitivity of Korea’s AI and big data field. “China is being stalled because the U.S. is impeding its growth. The conflict between the U.S. and China has presented us with precious time during which we can gather AI talents and establish infrastructure,” he said.

He repeatedly emphasized that now is vital for us to become a leading country that does not depend on others.

Director Cha’s diagnosis was that AI and big data could shake the foundation of all fields. He said that China’s growth was especially surprising. Concerned, he said, “When I recently participated in major AI conferences overseas, such as in the U.S., half of the lecturers are Chinese. China has produced top AI talents within a short time period, and if this goes on, Korea will be cast into difficulty that cannot be overcome.”

The Chinese government aims to rise to the top of the AI field by 2030, and is continuing a project to produce AI talents. The U.S. and Chinese government are in a hegemonic war, and the annual investment in the AI field is worth trillions of won.

Director Sang Kyun Cha graduated from SNU EE and acquired his doctorate in Stanford University ECE. In 2000, Director Cha was the first in Korea to found a lab startup in Silicon Valley. Afterwards, through a strategic Merger and Acquisition (M&A) with the global company SAP, he launched the new technology platform ‘SAP HANA’ in the global market.

Translated by: Jee Hyun Lee, English Editor of Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering,