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Foxconn's Terry Gou pushes 'industrial AI' in Silicon Valley

Key iPhone assembler looks to lure top talent to its new California company

Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou addresses participants during an AI event at Stanford University in the U.S. state of California on Friday. (Photo by Lauly Li)

PALO ALTO, U.S. -- Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as Foxconn Technology Group, has set up a new artificial intelligence company in California's Silicon Valley to improve its AI-based industrial internet capabilities.

The new company hopes to hire about 100 AI professionals from the area.

"The Bay Area has been a high-tech innovation hub. It is the home to the best AI and data science talent in America," Chairman Terry Gou said in opening remarks for a talk on AI-enabled manufacturing at Stanford University on Friday.

Gou has been traveling in the U.S. after breaking ground on a manufacturing complex in the state of Wisconsin on June 28. Foxconn will invest about $10 billion in the facility.

More than 500 people registered for the Stanford University event, which was only open to 100, according to the organizer. Attendees included students from the university, entrepreneurs from local startups and employees from large tech companies, and AI researchers.

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou attend the groundbreaking ceremony for a new factory in the U.S. state of Wisconsin on June 28.   © AP

Gou said he attended the event because Foxconn is serious about bringing industrial AI technology into traditional manufacturing. Earlier this week, Foxconn also signed a cooperative research agreement with University of Cincinnati's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences for developing industrial AI, he said.

Gou said Foxconn will invest in AI, big data, startups and local talent in the Bay Area, as well as offer scholarships.

Foxconn, the world's largest contract manufacturing company, registered the new company as Industrial AI System last week, Senior Vice President Andrew Liou told the Nikkei Asian Review. Liou said Foxconn is collaborating with Dr. Jay Lee, a professor at the University of Cincinnati, and may also set up new AI units in Beijing and Shenzhen.

"Foxconn is significantly expanding in this area. We will start by recruiting about 100 AI staff here in Silicon Valley," said Liou, who also oversees the company's own research institute.

Liou said that Industrial AI System is looking for talent in the fields of deep learning, physics, optics and precision machine control.

Foxconn has around 1,000 employees in its automation division, and also operates divisions devoted to sensors and the internet of things. The new AI staff will be working with these divisions at manufacturing sites to collect and analyze data, Liou said.

Many in the audience at the Stanford University event expressed interest in working for Foxconn. One participant already employed by a local tech company said that he looks forward to more Foxconn news regarding employment.

Foxconn has been aggressively growing its industrial internet operations over the past year amid a slowing smartphone industry. As young adults shun factory work in China and labor costs rise, the company is looking for alternative ways to manufacture more efficiently.

Gou has repeatedly said that AI-infused industrial internet solutions will drive Foxconn's growth, with the next three years especially crucial. To realize its goal, the company spun off a division in June, listing it as Foxconn Industrial Internet (FII) on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in an effort to raise 27.1 billion yuan ($4.3 billion).

According to FII, proceeds from the IPO will be used in research and development of industrial internet solutions, including fifth-generation, or 5G, technology, networking equipment and cloud-computing platforms.

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