Mr. Ren Zhengfei, Huawei Founder and CEO, sat down with two of the world's most prominent thinkers George Gilder and Nicholas Negroponte for 100 minutes of conversation and Q&A. George Gilder is a futurist, author and venture capitalist. Nicholas Negroponte is a tech visionary and the Co-founder of the MIT Media Lab. The discussion was moderated by Ms. Tian Wei, host of China Global Television Network's World Insight. Catherine Chen, Huawei's Senior Vice President and Member of the Board, is also in attendance.
Tian: Absorb the energy of the universe over a cup of coffee. I'm Tian Wei. They say a good conversation could be just like drinking a cup of black coffee and as stimulating as it is hard. I'm not sure whether today's conversation is going to be a really difficult one, but it should certainly be stimulating intellectually and thought-provoking. If you take a look at the panelists on the stage, they're trail blazers in their respective fields and certainly very outspoken about the challenges that we are facing today. I hope it's a conversation among minds without borders.
First up, A Coffee with Ren, so let's start with Ren. Ren Zhengfei, founder and CEO of Huawei. Of course, a legendary entrepreneur from China who has made China one of the world leaders of 5G. Huawei now, as far as I understand, is the world's largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment and the second largest maker of smartphones. So, Mr. Ren, welcome.
On his right, Nicholas Negroponte. The reason I introduce Mr. Negroponte second is because he has just accepted Mr. Ren as his student. Big news. A tech visionary and co-founder together with Jerome B. Wiesner of the MIT media lab. And he has been providing funding for start-up companies around the world, including WIRED magazine and Sohu. He has also decided to devote the remainder of his time, which is a lot, to opening science and global connectivity. Good to see you, Nicholas.
Next, we have George Gilder, certainly a fun individual, as well as a tech guru and a futurist, according to many. George is President Ronald Reagan's most quoted leading author and has been a venture capitalist in the US and Israel on many important projects. He enjoys his time as a runner and also as a skier. George, good to see you.
Last but certainly not least, we have a wonderful lady sitting on the stage as well. A long-time commitment to Huawei, 25 years working for this company, and a colleague of Mr. Ren, Ms. Catherine Chen, Senior Vice President and Director of the Board of Huawei, welcome.
- Q1Tian: Okay, A Coffee with Ren. I really need to start with Mr. Ren. Mr. Ren, is it because you cannot go to the US so you have all your friends coming to China for coffee?
- Q2Tian: I want to turn the table to both of you here. Aren't you afraid of being politically incorrect, coming to China and sitting here in the sitting room of Huawei while knowing what's going on between the US and China?
- Q3Tian: There are companies who are not providing Huawei with components and parts anymore, despite the fact that you had contracts with them. How will you treat the American companies who wish to keep supplying Huawei?
- Q4Tian: It seems that Mr. Ren gave us a lot of information earlier about the bottom line he is thinking about. What do you think George?
- Q5Tian: Talking about the basis of knowledge, I really need to ask Mr. Ren. Because right now, Huawei's collaboration with quite a number of American universities and labs has been halted, including some of those where you originally came from. And that is not going to contribute to the open science we are talking about. But to Mr. Ren, it's also going to have a big impact on where Huawei could be in terms of your capacity for science and technology. How would Huawei address the situation?
- Q6Tian: That's a great thing. And having a good market is a good thing, too, I guess. To you, Mr. Gilder, talking about security earlier, Mr. Ren has mentioned that. So there are lots of questions about whether Huawei has backdoors. Mr. Ren, please answer this question as well. Which security is it? Who will guarantee the security? Who are the ones to judge whether one system or another system has security or not?
- Q7Tian: Mr. Ren, has Huawei installed backdoors into its equipment? Are there any security issues? Please tell our good friends, and the audience joining us online what Huawei's position is regarding this issue.
- Q8Tian: Mr. Negroponte, what Mr. Ren just said is very interesting. He seems to want to look at history over a long period, rather than focusing on one specific point of time. So what exactly can we learn from history? I mean, you've already also talked about history, whether this is regarding Japan or Sputnik. What can we really learn? They say it's the rule of the jungle anyway.
- Q9Tian: Mr. Gilder, many say, wow, we're already at the very beginning of a technological cold war. We're going to have to decouple between China and the United States and between China and some of the other countries, technology-wise. Are you as easygoing about the reality as Mr. Ren, or as historical as Mr. Negroponte?
- Q10Tian: If it's not that challenging, as all of you illustrated, I feel happy as a journalist. But now, there's another thing. We cannot just concentrate our conversation on Huawei and the current specific challenges. But rather, we're going from here, every one of us. Mr. Ren has been very passionate about 5G. That's certainly going to help build the infrastructure in the world to empower communication and many other things. Mr. Gilder has been arguing over the years that artificial intelligence is not going to replace human beings, but human capacity and also the human brain are enormous. Meanwhile, Mr. Negroponte, you have been arguing in many of your speeches and books that biotech is the new digital, as you wrote in the book Being Digital back in 1995. You even argued that we can probably eventually eat a pill and learn Chinese, not only through the eyes but from within the body. So, what kind of future do you see?
- Q11Tian: Growing from a seed is something we can discuss. Mr. Ren, what about your future? What do you think?
- Q12Tian: To take pills or not is not the question. The question is what we're going to see in the future. Let's talk about the future a little bit more. For example, lifelong learning, Mr. Ren, that's extremely important for everyone no matter what future we're talking about. So for all of you, how does that happen? What is the best tool for this? What is your method for achieving lifelong learning? I'm sure you have had to learn very fast, particularly recently.
- Q13Tian: Finally, you agree with Professor Negroponte on something, Mr. Gilder. OK. But there's one thing I also want to ask you about. You've talked about the potential beauty of a world in which everyone can work together and overcome this current bump, but a lot of people that I have been talking to have real concerns about whether their children's generation is going to enjoy the kind of life you guys have been enjoying over the decades, which is that you see your life going up, getting better; life is getting better all the time. But maybe the next generation, some are concerned, is not going to be as beautiful as that. Mr. Negroponte, you've been working with kids a lot. $100 laptops for them to go into the digital world. What do you think? It's actually a question of optimism or a little bit of pessimism.
- Q14I have two questions, one is for Mr. Ren and one is for Professor Negroponte.
- Q15 I have a question for Mr. Ren. You mentioned a decrease of 30 billion US dollars in comparison to Huawei's plan. What's your specific plan for the future? We have seen that Huawei's submarine cable business went up for sale. Will Huawei put more businesses up for sale in the future? In the next one or two years, what measures will you take to alleviate the pressure you're under?
- Q16 I am a professor at Harbin Institute of Technology and I used to work at MIT. I have great concerns regarding the research efforts that Huawei proposes for the future, especially now in terms of the disputed moment that Professor Negroponte mentioned. How is Huawei going to address the issue of basic research, which you also mentioned is an important ingredient for the future creation of knowledge? Also, how will you deal with the issues with creativity that exist in China in order to support this basic research effort?
- Q17 I would like to talk about China and innovation. How dependent is China's innovation system on it since integration into the global innovation networks that has developed over the last decades. Will China still be able to produce cutting-edge innovation, if transfer-border collaboration is substantially reduced?
- Q18 I have a question to Mr. Ren regarding IPR. We know many US media outlets are saying that Huawei stole a lot of trade secrets and intellectual properties from Western companies in its early years. What's your response to this? Right now, Huawei currently owns more than 80,000 patents. Are you going to use that as a weapon?
- Q19Tian: I'd like to collect all these questions and then let our panelists answer them together.
- Q2OTian: You've been talking about open science and global connectivity. Everybody, use one sentence only to describe the biggest takeaway from the coffee with Ren today.
Tian: That's simple but not simple. Thank you so much. And with that, we're wrapping up our first coffee with Ren. We hope there will be many more coffees to come in the future, during which we can talk and interact and certainly be intellectually stimulating one another.
Thank you and goodbye.