Tencent Chief Scientist Zhang Zhengyou’s message to young people: Cherish talent and irrigate it with “diligence”

It’s the beginning of the school season again, and a group of young people are standing at an important intersection in their lives: entering university and taking postgraduate entrance exams mean that a new chapter in life is about to begin. Facing the unknown and challenging “new world”, how should we set out?

Recently, Zhang Zhengyou, Chief Scientist of Tencent and Head of Tencent AI Lab and Robot Lab, reviewed his scientific research process for the first time at the 2022 Tencent Rhino-Bird Elite Research Camp, and shared the craftsmanship (“WTO” theory) required for good research and technology. A message for young people who are about to enter a new stage in their lives. “W” is the 10,000-hour rule. Even a highly gifted person needs 10,000 hours of training to become a world-class master; “T” is also known as the nail theory. “O” to describe a person’s cognitive boundaries, to remain curious about the unknown world, to constantly expand, and to focus at the same time, and to improve the ability to acquire abilities, lifelong learning.


The following is the original text of Dr. Zhang Zhengyou’s speech:

Hello everyone, I am Zhang Zhengyou, head of Tencent AI Lab and Robotics Lab. In retrospect, I have been engaged in artificial intelligence research and related work for nearly 40 years. In the process, I have also accumulated some personal insights and experience summaries. Today, I will start from my own scientific research experience and share with you who are about to enter the new world. I believe that scientific researchers and technicians must have the spirit of craftsmanship. I summarize it as the “WTO” theory. life is helpful.

W: The Mystery of Epiphany Moments: Inspiration Comes from Continuous Accumulation

Everyone should be familiar with the 10,000-hour rule, which is W (10,000) I want to talk about.

It was first proposed by Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson in the 1990s, through bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell ) in Outliers, written in 2008, is more widely described. Eriksson and his two colleagues conducted research at the top-level Berlin Conservatory of Music, why people who enter the academy are all “genius” people, but in the end, some of them become music teachers, and some become the world level master. Why? The study found that those students who became world-class masters spent at least 10,000 hours training. This shows that the difference behind this is not due to talent, but a lot of time spent refining skills.

This tells us a truth: cherish talent and irrigate it with “diligence” in order to blossom and bear fruit.

This theory is supported by brain science experiments. A person’s intelligence is connecting the synapses of neurons, and the strength of synapses is not static and has neural plasticity. Through training, useful synapses are strengthened and useless ones are even pruned, making the brain work more efficiently and consume less energy. British neuroscientist Daniel Levitin and Nobel laureate Herbert Simon also believe that the human brain does take a long time to understand and master a complex cognitive knowledge or skill before reaching the master level.

Aha moment, the moment of epiphany, is the moment that everyone who really does research is waiting for. I believe that everyone is looking forward to the arrival of this sense of joy. In the eyes of many people, inspiration is a momentary thing; but in my opinion, it is a “seed” that emerges after a long wait and requires a long accumulation and waiting.

There is an ancient Chinese poem, “If you break through the iron shoes, you will find nowhere, and you will find it without effort.” This is also true. It takes no effort to get it, as long as you have to break through the iron shoes.

When I was young, it took almost two years to publish a paper, and this frequency was not high in the academic world. However, each paper has been influential so far. I believe that only by calming down and holding your breath can you make scientific research results that affect the industry and even change the world.

Of course, the diligence I am talking about here is not about working hard or being busy, but about using time efficiently and attentively. Learn to distinguish between diligence and busy, this is very important.

T: In the face of “anxiety”, become a “nail” that can be driven firmly

I’ve spoken to my students about this “T” theory many times before: the vertical line represents the depth of knowledge, and the horizontal line represents the breadth of knowledge. I use the analogy of a nail, if the vertical part is short, it becomes a tack and can easily be pulled out and replaced. If the vertical part is very long and thick, it becomes a “nail” that can be driven firmly. So go deep and become an irreplaceable expert

Recently, I often hear a topic that everyone talks about, called “35-year-old anxiety”. In my opinion, the source of this anxiety is “fear of being replaced”.

I was the first to do computer vision research, so that computers can see and understand like humans. After graduating, he went to study in France and participated in the world’s first robot that uses 3D vision for navigation, as well as the research and development of the European Mars robot. In 1996 and 1997, he went to Japan for academic leave and developed the world’s first neural network-based facial expression recognition system. In 1998, I went to Microsoft Research Institute and developed a lot of things, including the camera calibration method called “Zhang’s method” that is used all over the world. In 2018, I returned to Shenzhen to join Tencent.

Like everyone, I have been through a lot of change and uncertainty. But looking back now, it can be said that they are all in a “straight line”, constantly improving. Just like I think, simply doing computer vision research is not enough to solve the problem, so I created a robot laboratory in Tencent, so that robots can one day enter thousands of households in the future.

To become a firm “nail”, you must first drill down to a deep place, and then expand your “breadth” after reaching a certain level. This may ease some of the anxiety of our young people.

Of course, I also know that diligence is easy to say, but difficult to do. My advice to everyone is: find what you love, or try to love what you’re doing, so you can do great things.

O: Unknown challenges are never announced, ready to start again at any time

Finally, let me tell you about the “O”. O is a circle, the inside of O is what you know, and the outside is the unknown world, so the circle also symbolizes the boundary between “unknown” and “known”. You will find that the more you know, the more you don’t know. When your knowledge is limited, the circle is small, and it feels like you know the whole world, which is like the “frog in the well” as we know it.

Whether it is technology or the operation of the universe, there are many places worthy of human exploration. Curiosity is the best medium for us to maintain a dialogue with the world, and it is also an important driving force for our continuous progress. Be humble and in awe of the unknown world.

I’ve been through the transitions from mainframe computers to laptops to mobile phones. I believe that technology will continue to develop, such as AR glasses and robots, which will gradually become popular. Uncertain things and unknown challenges will come at any time, so how to deal with it more calmly?

The first is to focus, choose what you think is important to be diligent, and discard what should be discarded, not to do everything. Then, with a long-term attitude, go on.

Second, to improve the “capacity” of acquiring competence. Simply put, whatever you learn from a book or somewhere is out of date after a few years. How to learn new knowledge, how to do research, how to explore, and find out a set of methods that suits you. It is also necessary to learn to model knowledge, generalize problems, from point to surface, and improve generalization ability to deal with an uncertain world.

Finally, I want to say that good people also need opportunities. Be grateful when it comes, and be patient when it hasn’t. In this way, you will continue to gain good luck. I am very fortunate to encounter China’s reform and opening up, which allows me to go abroad to absorb the most advanced science and technology in the world, and to have noble people to help me on the way to the peak of science and technology. I am always grateful and humble.

I hope everyone remembers that success is not the goal, but rather the joy of exploring the world.

thank you all.

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