Lee-Feng Chien, former Google Taiwan director, on why IC design sector breeds successful entrepreneurs

Lee-Feng Chien, former managing director of Google Taiwan, described 2022 as the year of a big leap forward in AI development. Having consulted many startups, Chien has also observed that IC design talent with project management experience is the best fit to become an entrepreneur. But they must be willing to leave their comfort zone.

In an interview with DIGITIMES on Dec. 28, Chien pointed out that AI advances in 2022 are mostly in language models. For example, OpenAI’s ChatGPT has sparked widespread discussion. Previous breakthroughs in this area were when Google released its language model BERT in 2018, and when Google’s DeepMind team launched AlphaGo, a go-playing AI program.

ChatGPT is already a threat to major technology companies.

He then explained that AI technology can be largely divided into two fields: computer vision and language models. People already knew that computers had strong memorization and computing power. When computers started recognizing items, people started freaking out. People freaked out when computers started talking in a natural way. This is why advances in language models are of particular note.

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He believes ChatGPT is now acting like a “firepower display” for OpenAI, demonstrating that AI representations are increasingly “human-like.” It hasn’t become a product yet, but it’s already a threat to major tech companies. Major companies are expected to devote their resources to developing related technologies.

Many people are comparing ChatGPT to Google’s search engine. Chien said the conversations generated by ChatGPT are not real-time and lack sequence. ChatGPT also does not provide information sources. These characteristics make it unsuitable as a search engine.

Chien pointed out that the Turing Test is a standard method for benchmarking machine intelligence against human intelligence. In other words, an AI product is considered to be well designed if it cannot perceive that it is interacting with artificial intelligence. Today, however, AI must “do the right thing” to be considered intelligent. For example, Chien pointed out that Stanford University already has a team working on new AI measurement standards.

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Also, as the former director of Google Taiwan observed, AI models require large amounts of computing resources. Therefore, as AI and cloud computing technologies continue to advance, Taiwanese server and hardware manufacturers will continue to benefit. It also provides a space for startups to grow.

The field of IC design is a hotbed of successful entrepreneurs.

Because IC design marks the intersection of software and hardware development, “the best people to become entrepreneurs in Taiwan are those in the field of IC design,” said Chien. Examples include NextDrive co-founder Jer-Yuan Yan and Aiello co-founder Vic Shen, both from IC design.

Although Taiwan’s foundry capabilities lead the world, it is nevertheless a capital-intensive industry, making it difficult to incubate startups. Foundries have many customers, but in the early development stages, they may not know what their products are. In contrast, IC design is directly related to the application, providing a better understanding of the market.

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“Two out of three entrepreneurs coming from IC design will be successful, but they need to be able to leave their comfort zone,” said Chien. He also observed that software startups are having a hard time succeeding because unlike hardware vendors, who can produce products at a wide range of price points, software has no borders and you have to be the best in the market.

Chien emphasized that Taiwan has cultivated a lot of software engineers who are really good at solving specific problems. However, it is weak in terms of system integration, product launch and marketing. He suggested that entrepreneurs should “stand on the shoulders of giants” and integrate existing resources to develop innovative applications while finding the right usage scenarios.


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