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iPhone assembler Foxconn pledges $340m for AI venture

Chairman Terry Gou seeks new opportunities amid slowing mobile market

Terry Gou, founder and chairman of Foxconn, announced a major investment in AI on Feb.1. (Photo by Cheng Ting-fang)

NEW TAIPEI CITY, Taiwan -- Major iPhone assembler Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as Foxconn, on Friday pledged to dedicate a minimum of $342 million to turn itself into a key artificial intelligence player as the Taiwanese tech conglomerate eyes new growth opportunities beyond smartphones.

"We will at least invest some 10 billion New Taiwan dollars ($342 million) over five years to recruit top talent and deploy artificial intelligence applications in all the manufacturing sites," said Chairman Terry Gou.

"It's likely that we could even pour in some $10 billion or more if we find the deployments are very successful or can really generate results," said Gou.

Gou added that his company aimed to recruit up to 100 top AI experts globally and would open up thousands of jobs for young talent should they have good ideas on how to develop applications using machine learning and deep learning techniques.

His team is already looking globally for different types of sensors that can be built into production line equipment to better sense, capture and process data, according to Gou.

"We will become a global innovative AI platform rather than just a manufacturing company," said Gou.

Earlier in the week, on Jan. 31, Gou said that after a massive AI deployment, his company would be able to take on automation and industrial solution providers General Electric and Cisco and offer the most advanced manufacturing experiences and services.

Foxconn's move to invest heavily in AI comes as it faces mounting challenges to grow its core manufacturing business as global smartphone demand slows. Although its largest customer Apple on Feb. 1 reported record revenue for the last holiday season quarter, the US tech group sold fewer units of the iPhone X than expected and gave a weak outlook for the current quarter. Foxconn is the sole assembler of the iPhone X.

Gou said his company would team up with Andrew Ng, one of the most prominent figures in the machine learning community, and use the technology brought by Ng's new company Landing.ai, to help transform the manufacturing process, and identify and predict any defects. Ng was the chief scientist at Chinese tech group Baidu, before he started his own company in 2017.

Ng told reporters that Foxconn had a good chance of becoming a great company -- a Google or Amazon for the AI era -- as the Taiwanese company owns such a huge volume of data generated from its production processes.

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