With a strong technical background in the science and technology industry, Terminus Group’s new Chief Technology Officer (CTO) has made an immediate impact at the company, since joining the global smart service provider in September 2022. Perhaps unusually, when talking about men and women of a scientific background, Dr. Hua Xiansheng did not just bring along an impressive set of technological skills and experience, he arrived at Terminus Group with a philosophy that answers one of the key concerns many people have when discussing the future of artificial intelligence (AI): Is AI technology dangerous, in the long-term, as a competitor to human beings?
Dr. Hua Xiansheng, CTO of Terminus Group
For Dr. Hua, he is unequivocal on the matter - technology has no good or evil. Its overall impact depends on the people operating or developing the tech, the methods used, and its overall deployment and use. What is clear is that today's AI and IoT (AIoT) technology is being used to enhance people's convenience, knowledge, skill sets, and even individual behaviors, and this is what will become more and more valuable, as we migrate from today’s world, into the future world of AI and 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution).
Human beings are very much front and center of the technological developments as the creators and developers of technology, and technicians have become the main driving factor for humans to be valuable elements in the new work-life ecosystem. When talking about the requirements of technical personnel, Dr. Hua elaborated on his assessment from the micro to macro perspectives respectively. Training and recruitment needs to be both professional and focused on the ability to transform technology and individual businesses. One of the most important things technicians or engineers need to have is a sense of mission and purpose. For Dr. Hua, it is not enough to have the technical skills, but to be someone who has a big picture view, possesses a decisive character, makes long-term planning a core component of their work, and an abundance of self-motivation.
According to the Terminus Group CTO, the science and R&D should not see itself as a “castle in the air” separate from the practicalities or real-world demands of technology. In doing so it should be creating value in parallel with productivity so as to not arrive to market as a “clever answer to a question nobody had asked.”
Since Dr Hua Xiansheng became CTO of Terminus Group, the company has made leaps in progress on its innovative technology R&D, with product and solutions upgrading, rapid development of urban digitalization applications and solutions, and all tied into a philosophy that aligns with the company’s green and sustainable commercialization.
1. When did you first hear about Terminus Group and what made you decide to join the company?
The first time I discussed Terminus Group was following a friend’s introduction to the company and the goal and mission it was undertaking in the development of future smart cities, including the platforms and devices across the AIoT field. Shortly afterwards, I had two incredibly interesting conversations with Victor Ai, the Founder and CEO of Terminus Group.
Immediately, it was clear that he and I shared a very similar perspective when it came to the development and technological architecture of our future cities. For example, Victor’s thoughts on the topic were consistent with my own thinking on the large-scale – city-wide – implementation and development of newly merged AIoT sector and the prospects that brought for the future of the industry and society as a whole. This meeting of minds between us was very much why I made what is the simple decision to join Terminus Group as CTO, knowing that the direction we take the company and look to impact the industry is a journey that is being led by great thinkers and doers, with a passion for making a better world.
2. You head up high-skilled team at Terminus Group, so what is it you look for in your technicians and engineers when recruiting?
First of all, technicians or engineers should be able to demonstrate that they have a sense of mission. Only with a sense of mission can they have the enterprising spirit to challenge, improve and innovate in a sector where innovation is moving at great speed. Therefore, having a great vision and strong self-motivational attributes are crucial. In addition, I would say there are two further qualities we look for in our technicians. Firstly, they must pursue technical excellence, but secondly, they must also have a realization or contextualization of the industrial value of their work.
It's true that we should develop future cities through technological innovation and industrial value; however, we should not stay as castles in the air – as if above the day-to-day demands on technology – but we need to be firmly placed in the real world of what creates value through technical productivity.
From the individual level, technicians should be professional and dedicated. Broadening out further, they should possess the capability to recognize the duality of developing technology with business outcomes in mind – not just research for the sake of research. And, lastly, from a macro perspective, they should see the bigger picture in what they do and know the mission. In doing so, they are most likely to make decisive judgments on the master planning for future cities – not a myopic focus on standalone devices.
In fact, from what I have seen since I joined Terminus, we are very lucky to already have such a talented team of PhDs and highly-skilled workers who are dedicated in the field of AIoT, and we are extremely proud of the existing complement of technicians and engineers. Because the development of technology continues to change the world around us at such a rapid pace, there is never any room for ‘passengers’ on the team. Each employee has their own unique qualities and collective capabilities to solve a lot of problems – this is especially useful in the development of future cities where we are designing the blueprints, not following one. This is the model we adhere to and this is why Terminus Group is already a respected and renowned smart service provider that is a pioneer in the development and realization of future cities.
3. What is your mandate as the new CTO at Terminus Group?
After joining Terminus Group, I looked to evaluate the entire R&D system and technical product system of the company. This will continue to be a key priority in the role, going forward. Of course, Terminus Group has already achieved and accumulated this technology sector and product levels and practical results in real business scenarios have seen the company involved in thousands of successful projects, since its formation in 2015.
What I bring and want to do is to continue to help improve the Group and form a complete system that brings all of our R&D and product lines together – to form the most effective and cohesive offering across all requirements of a smart city enterprise. After initial evaluations and discussions with Victor, I now have the go ahead to make important adjustments to the overall organizational structure of R&D, bringing together all products, technologies and form several core R&D teams that address both the technological and commercial goals of the company. Also, since I joined, I have organized the technical product system into five tiers, which should improve efficiency and development.
The five-tier architecture can be simply outlined as the following:
The first tier is IoT. There is perhaps no great surprise that this remains a core feature of Terminus Group; however, not all AI-focused companies work in the areas of IoT as well. Here, Terminus Group works with sensors and other devices in selected fields, as well as hardware computing devices for edge computing, and robots. This tier has already gained success in a wide range of areas but we will be increasingly selective in the deployment of more edge computing hardware. We also have a series of products that can adapt to edge computing hardware in different situations.
The second tier is City OS. This is the core product of Terminus Group, with the IoT tier connecting urban physical models and spatial modeling seamlessly. The OS layer is, however, different from the general IoT platform. It can build a digital twinning model of the interconnection of all things and achieve intelligentization on this basis. The latest version of our design – TacOS 3.0 – was just released a few months ago. We need to iterate its capabilities further, polish it in more scenarios, and in doing so make it far superior product.
The third tier is AI and digitalization. In the past, Terminus Group has conducted exploration with many partners in this area. Today, we have more talent joining in house, so this will gradually help us to independently improve AI's mid-level capabilities and form more AI capabilities with their own characteristics. Combined with our joint exploration with sustainability-minded partners, we will form a large platform in the four fields of buildings, communities, parks, and cities. At the same time, we are also planning the capacity of unlimited smart expansion, so that the single point capacity of technology can be expanded, and the scenario-based capacity can be expanded freely. Presently, the single point AI capacity is difficult to show a wide range of rich values, but the scenario-based capacity can and will.
The fourth tier is the APP (application) layer. Terminus Group has made a lot of progress in the application layer. In addition to several typical applications that we have focused on, such as community scenarios, campus scenarios, and office scenarios, we now turn the common modules accumulated in these scenarios into a platform. At the same time, more developers can use the capabilities of the following tiers to develop applications on this platform, which has become our fifth layer – CityStudio.
Of course, the five tiers are connected, and each is particularly important in its own right. In our design, each tier is strongly related yet at the same time relatively decoupled. Each layer can make a separate product to support a separate scenario, which is both interdependent and hierarchical decoupled. This demonstrates the flexibility of the architecture.
4. All industries are promoting the creation of a universal technology platform to accelerate AI applications. Is that a reality we will see soon?
It is normal for different industries to have developed their own platforms, and it is true that today's AI capabilities are not universal. Although the bottom layer of an AI platform is relatively universal, the real AI midrange capabilities tend to have industry-specific attributes.
Smart cities, industry, medical, Internet and other fields can – and often do – form different midrange platforms. For example, industrial visual inspection involves different factories and production lines. If we do it one-by-one, we cannot carry so many variables. However, the industrial platform can enable certain functions to realize the landing of specific cases on the basis of the platform.
Smart cities are ahead in this direction, and major manufacturers and traditional enterprises are exploring such matters accordingly. That said, the perspective of Terminus Group is different. From the perspective of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and the intelligent Internet, Terminus Group promotes the digitalization of space on a ‘floor-by-floor’ basis and the overall computing mode of the space and the object model in the space from small to large. For example, from an office to a conference room, a floor, a building, a park to the whole city.
5. Einstein once proposed that "the truth of science must be based on moral goodness". How do you think the technology industry is managing to adhere to this through its applications?
This is a particularly important issue. As a technician, I am also genuinely concerned about the short-term and long-term impact that technology will bring to humankind. First of all, it needs to be emphasized that technology itself is neither good nor evil, and its impact depends on the people who use it and the method of using it.
Technology itself does not have subjectivity, so the responsibility for its possible harm cannot be attributed to technology itself. There are two ways to achieve balance. When technology brings hidden dangers, another kind of technical restraint is needed. Secondly, laws and regulations are also needed. By combining technology with laws and regulations, technology can play a positive role in reducing problems caused by technology abuse.
To some extent, technology does have impact on people. Like the first industrial revolution, the three subsequent industrial revolutions clearly have an impact on human beings. Maybe this has resulted in certain jobs or skillsets being made redundant, but on the other hand they have also created more new jobs, promoted the progress and development of human society, and improved the quality of human life.
Many people also care about the education of the next generation - how to educate our next generation so that they can adapt to the coexistence of humans and computers – or AI in particular. In this regard, people need to develop their own advantages. I think the future society must be a society where people and machines coexist. The balance we need to achieve is that machines do what machines are good at, and people do what people are good at. Machines always serve people. By means of technology, laws, and regulations, we hope that machines can become tools to serve people, and technical tools will also enhance human capabilities in new and exciting ways.
6. What’s your impression of Victor Ai, Founder and CEO of Terminus Group?
My first impression of Victor was of a highly driven person with a clear mission and vision. I believe anyone who has met him cannot help by also hit by that youthful yet focused sense of enthusiasm and, in particular, his ideas on the Terminus Group concept and designs for future cities immediately appealed me.
Knowing his background in business, it was already clear to me that Victor was smart but, from our initial meeting, it was his astute leadership qualities that stood out – knowing what I needed to know and a step ahead in understanding the issues and challenges that come with my role, which demonstrated a deep level of care and attention he obviously has towards his employees. For my part, I was also touched a few months later when Victor shared that he was particularly moved by words when I joined Terminus Group that I was confident I was making my final decision in my career development by expressing a desire to retire at this company. For my part, I was also pleased to note that Victor outlined that his choice for the role of CTO was very strict and very selective process and that he had not appointed a CTO for a number of years prior to my appointment because he insisted on finding the most suitable candidate. A position for which he was also under great pressure to fill. In some way, it really does feel that Terminus Group and I were destined to come together.
7. While you are renowned as a technical expert, artistic creativity in AI has been a recent topic of discussion. Do you have a view on the developments of AI in creative arts and writing?
This question is very interesting and perhaps, as you point out my background, perhaps you’ll excuse me if I answer like a technician rather than an artist and use multi-dimensional space to explain my view. To clarify, multi-dimensional space does not mean real two and three-dimensional space. We can think of people's artistic creativity as an ability in three-dimensional space or higher space, which may be reflected in painting, writing, music, etc.
In paintings, for example, a person's work is a projection of his ability to transform a three-dimensional space into a two-dimensional space. So, where do these machine learning algorithms come from? It is learned from these samples in two-dimensional space, but it cannot learn the ability of three-dimensional or higher space. So, although machine learning has certain abstract abilities, it is difficult to break through the third dimension, but this will come and it is within the capabilities of human innovation to solve this. That said, if it has seen enough samples in two-dimensional space, it may exceed the known part of the samples and expand to the part of two-dimensional space that has not been projected, so machine learning seems to be innovative. In spite of this, machine learning still has the three-dimensional space ability that humans have.
Currently, AI can imitate the appearance of many talented artists' work and, as well as being good, I would argue it may even surpass them to some extent, in the future. For ordinary people, however, many don’t even have the ability to adequately manage using two-dimensional space. Therefore, in this regard, AI already exceeds the ability of ordinary people, but today's AI does not yet have the ability to become a master or innovate in a new field. We are not at the point where AI can produce the next Picasso, Rembrandt or Leonardo da Vinci.
On the other hand, art works created by AI are interpreted by people, who will give deeper meaning in the process of interpretation. So, although the work seems to be created by machines, the final presentation is a process of human participation and mental processing.
8. What are the obstacles of large-scale commercial implementation of AI?
As to whether AI can achieve large-scale commercial implementation, there are three issues that needs to be considered.
Firstly, can it create irreplaceable value? If the value created can be easily realized by other technologies, it cannot be said that the technology itself brings unique value, and it will not have strong technological or commercial viability.
Secondly, it can be scaled up. Although AI technology has made great progress, it still has limitations. Technology must go deep into the industry to solve real and practical problems. At present, general AI technology does not exist. Whether a solution in a field or scenario can be replicated on a large scale is very important in the process of commercialization. We see that while many benchmarks are set, the cost is very high, the investment of manpower is too large, and it is difficult to commercialize and scale up the promotion, which also hinders AI from generating higher value.
Thirdly, is the core competitiveness. This is especially true for a company, compared with academic institutions or public welfare institutions. Technological development is very fast and businesses must be around six months to one year ahead of others in their own fields to have sustained core competitiveness.
I sum up these three points into a reductive formula: "One can have, one cannot have". That is to say, one can have it can be scaled up and have core competitiveness; one cannot have value that cannot be replaced. So, it follows that only when these three points are combined can industrialization be realized.
In the recent past, when mentioning AI, you would often hear three keywords: algorithms, computing power and data. This is for AI's single point capability. However, in order to achieve industrialization, the new three keywords to consider are: scenarios, platforms, and systems.
AI is connected to scenarios, and only scenario-based AI capabilities can be really implemented. In addition, the platformization is the premise of scale. It is difficult to achieve scale by sample; therefore, platformization can lower the threshold and enable more people to engage in AI research and development, especially in the application layer. Systematization refers to our ability to do AI by changing from an algorithm to a system that can evolve, grow, and cope with future changes.
Therefore, scenarios, platforms, and systems, combined with algorithms, computing power and data, are a path to achieving large-scale commercial implementation.
9. What is the commercialization capability of Terminus Group? How will the company further promote the implementation and application of technology and solutions in the future?
In order to do this, Terminus Group should have the best landing capability, because technology companies with industry attributes are the direction in which large-scale AI landing will happen, in the future. However, the model of a company supporting many industries faces great challenges. For Terminus Group, its primary focus is in the smart or AI city sector. There are many landing personnel in this industry area who have accumulated knowledge in the field, which is very important.
Today, when AI capabilities are implemented, we need to understand customers' needs, which are not like the previous B2C products. It requires a lot of communication with customers to develop and deliver this product well, meet the actual needs of customers, and solve real problems.
10. Will the emergence of a large number of general-purpose platforms/operating systems cause a new round of redundancy?
The platform and operating system we are talking about here is not a large general-purpose system. There will also be underlying systems, such as cloud platforms and machine learning platforms, which are commonly used. The platform we are talking about is a capability platform that focuses on AI or AIoT capabilities in a certain field, which itself has industry attributes. However, the ability of the platform in one industrial field may not be transferable to another. For example, the difference between the medical sector and smart city sector. Therefore, it is often said in the industry that "there is universal computing, but there is no universal AI."
(ChatGPT, which has found popularity recently, looks very powerful and seems to have universal communication ability, but in fact, it is far from universal AI, although its AI abilities have made great progress.) Therefore, the current platformization is actually the platformization in its particularly field.
Although there may be some common technologies between these platforms, they also have their own characteristics, so they cannot be fully used. Some fields have more capabilities to share, while others have less. Future cities are relatively complex. There is no redundancy and waste when we need to create a special middle platform for different goals.
11. What will happen to the smart city in the next 5-10 years?
I prefer to talk about future cities, not just smart cities. The concept of the smart city emerged very early. It has since expanded according to different understandings and, today, the focus of Terminus Group is very different from that of smart cities of the past. We are not only concerned about the managers of the city, but also about the developers, experiencers and enablers of buildings, communities, parks, and cities.
The short-term forecast is sometimes ahead of schedule, while the long-term forecast is often conservative. I personally believe that in three years' time, future cities should be able to achieve the interconnection of everything in buildings, communities, parks, and cities that we promote. Now, some of them have already been realized, but in the future we will truly realize the comprehensive interconnection of all things, which will lay a very good foundation for smart scenario expansion.
In 5-10 years, I think we will achieve the dream that many people have put forward: to have a truly ubiquitous intelligentization. Its foundation is the interconnection of all things. People's wellbeing and quality of life can be greatly improved. We should, therefore, not limit our imagination about the changes we may see in the next ten years.
12. Outside of the corporate world, what do you do to relax and unwind?
I have many hobbies and interests, but right now I do not have a great deal of time to lend them. However, when the opportunity arises, I usually like reading, traveling and sports. Sporting activity, is great for maintaining health but I also believe in maintaining mental as well as physical health and this is often done through regular meditation. When I am with my kids, I like playing table tennis. And I also like playing the flute, but that much less regularly these days. I also enjoy calligraphy and literature and, although I would never profess to be an expert in these areas, I still very much enjoy these pastimes very much.
I find it is always important to find time to address your self-growth in non-work-related areas. I think I always push myself forward both personally and professionally and I am also very willing to communicate and share any insights on that with employees. I hope that they also have the impetus to move forward, but this should be done in an environment that cultivates a healthy work environment and not one where pressure can affect their judgment. Your body and mind need to be in unison in order to perform at your best and creating the right conditions for employees to thrive is a personal passion project of mine also.
A typical day for work will usually see me arrive at the company early, around 7 o'clock. Mornings are often busy but I advocate and believe when moments arise, short breaks that take your mind off work can be refreshingly useful and allows you to come back to work with a fresh perspective on some things and more energized. The power of our hearts and minds are greater after some form of rest, and this allows one’s human potential to be brought into full play.