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From Math Teacher to AI Scientist

2018-06-04 14:26:00 Source:China Today Author:ZHANG LI
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By ZHANG LI 

HOW popular is “artificial intelligence” in China?

In China, the term artificial intelligence (AI) was included into the Report on the Work of the Government for the first time on March 5, 2017, and has since been recognized as a national strategy. Beginning last June, Chinese technology companies, led by Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu, vied to release their respective AI development strategies. On July 20, the State Council, China’s cabinet, set strategic goals for AI development involving a three-step strategy outlined in the “Development Planning for a New Generation of Artificial Intelligence.” Since 2017, both AI investment and financing have continued to rise.

Professor Li Fanzhang.

“As the main driving force of the new industrial revolution, China’s AI development is entering a new phase,” said Professor Li Fanzhang, dean of the School of Computer Science & Technology of Soochow University, recognizing the rapid development of AI in China.

Li was born in September, 1964, in Xuanwei City of Yunnan Province. Ever since he was a child, his role model has always been Chen Jingrun, a famous Chinese mathematician, hoping that one day he too could contribute to the field of mathematics, just like Chen. It was based on this goal that Li Fanzhang chose math as his major in college.

After graduation, Li became a middle school math teacher. He loved his job, worked hard, and was highly respected by his students. However, working as a middle school teacher was leagues away from his academic and scientific dreams. When computer science started to burgeon in China in the 1990s, Li decided to dive right in. He was soon admitted to the school of computer science and technology of the University of Science and Technology of China, and received a master’s degree in engineering in 1995. He later taught at Yunnan University and was given an accelerated promotion to professor in 1999. In 2000, he joined Soochow University.

Li has long been engaged in the teaching and research of computer science and technology. He first proposed the Lie Group Machine Learning (LML) system theory and method, which has been widely used in artificial intelligence. He also put forward the theoretical framework of Dynamic Fuzzy Logic (DFL) system for the very first time, developed the research content of fuzzy logic, and provided a new theoretical basis for machine learning representation and reasoning. Because of these achievements, Li has garnered a range of awards including the second prize of the Jiangsu Provincial Science and Technology Award and the IEEE Computer Science Pioneer Award.

As the head of the “Lie Group Machine Learning and Dynamic Fuzzy Logic Research Team”, Li has focused his efforts to team building and management.

Talent is the cornerstone of technological development. For young teachers and students, Li puts emphasis on cultivating their scientific research quality, innovative spirit, and ability, and tries to address social needs in his teaching in order to enhance everyone’s practical ability.

Li advocates that researchers should guarantee the foresight and importance of their research projects and the corresponding methods employed in the projects.

In order to increase international presence of his team, Li values the academic exchanges and discussions on scientific issues with well-known domestic and foreign scholars. He encourages young teachers and students to participate in academic visits and exchanges.

From middle school teacher to dean of a university, throughout his life, Li has pursued what he loves. Despite all the difficulties and frustrations along his journey, he has not paused or retreated. “If you have a dream, make it real. It is never too late to start,” said Li. On November 24, 2017, the Suzhou Artificial Intelligence Society was established, with Li as the first president of the society. Nowadays, Li mainly focuses on leading the society as well as his own team to promote AI development in China.  

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