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E Weinan: Scarcity of Talents Is the Biggest Challenge in Big Data Development

SEP . 16 2015

Peking University, Sept. 11, 2015: PKU Professor E Weinan, Dean of Yuanpei College, was invited to give a keynote speech at the opening forum of the second China International Big Data Summit held in Beijing during August 26-27. In his talk on the bottlenecks in the development of big data, E Weinan broke the news to the audience that Beijing Big Data Research Institute would be inaugurated the next day, which he believes is a viable solution to tackle a most severe issue—competition over a scarcity of big data talents.

The biggest advantage of big data development in China is its huge market, whereas its weakest link is the scarcity of talents. There are two kinds of pressure in terms of big data research: we are competing for talents against other countries, and we are competing against deep-pocketed companies. Data scientist positions are very popular and rewarding abroad as well, which someone would argue are hotter than jobs at Wall Streets. Once doing research in Princeton, E Weinan said that even such a world-renowned university found it hard to recruit talented scientists—they can be easily poached away by big companies. He listed two cases last year. The academia abroad is in severe competition with the industry for big data talents, and it is the same case in China, if not worse.
Currently there is no existing ideal mechanism to nurture big data talents in China. In fact, China’s academia has long been in short of talents. E Weinan has been thinking long and hard about how to tackle this severe problem since 2009. “China has such an enormous market that there’s no point in competing for No.2 in the world if we are doing big data. We must be in the lead in some areas at the least. To achieve this goal, we have to have a research body of the highest standards. ”
After six year, E Weinan’s effort has eventually paid off. Beijing Big Data Research Institute is established as a joint effort by Beijing Municipal Government, Peking University, Beijing University of Technology and the Management Committee of Zhongguancun. As an institutional innovation, it brings together stakeholders within and outside the political system, bridging scientific education, research and innovation with the market and the industry.
“I believe the institute will appeal to and draw in top scientists and researchers because they can see the potential of China’s huge market, and the nature of this platform allows them to do various kinds of work they aspire to do with data, from theory to product. In addition, the remuneration issue could be ameliorated.” E Weinan said that the inauguration of the Institute would only be the first step of a long-term mission. He hoped that people can take a practical attitude towards big data since there are still much left to be done.
E Weinan also talked about other challenges in the development of big data in China, including the quality of data, the circulation (sharing, exchange or trade) of data and thus privacy, and big data technologies, especially those targeted to solve problems that are specific to China such as analytics of Chinese texts, or storage and analysis of vast volumes of surveillance footages.
As big data industry continues to thrive around the globe, China is also witnessing the burgeoning of big data service providers pioneering the third round of IT revolution. Against a backdrop of "new normal", China's various industrial sectors are embarking on a journey of business transformation and technological upgrading. China International Big Data Summit is organized by China Institute of Communication (CIC) to create a platform to display and exchange big data application results in China and other countries. With "Big Data+" as its theme, the summit taps into the valuable resources possessed by the CIC big data experts, and interprets emerging trends at home and abroad with a globalized vision.
Extended Reading
E Weinan was born in Jingjiang, China. He obtained his Ph.D. degree under the advice of Björn Engquist in the Department of Mathematics at University of California, Los Angeles in 1989. He became a full professor in 1997 and since 1999, he has been holding a professorship in the Department of Mathematics and Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics at Princeton University. He has also been holding a professorship in the Beijing International Center for Mathematical Research (BICMR) at Peking University since 2005. He is known for his work in applied mathematics, with applications to fluid mechanics and material science. In addition, he has worked on multiscale modeling and the study of rare events.
E Weinan was elected Academician of Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2011 and Member of American Mathematical Society in 2012. He became Dean of Yuanpei College, PKU in 2014 and launched a new major of data science. He was announced to be the first director of the newly established Beijing Big Data Research Institute on August 27, 2015.
Reported by: Chen Long

Edited by:
Zhang Jiang