PTT founder quits high salary Microsoft job in U.S. to launch Taiwan AI Lab

PTT founder Ethan Tu returns to home country to kickstart Taiwan AI Lab

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Ethan Tu , founder of Taiwan’s online bulletin board PTT, being interviewed on new company Taiwan AI Lab. (By Taiwan News)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News)—Ethan Tu (杜奕瑾), founder of Taiwan’s popular online bulletin board system PTT, announced he was leaving Microsoft in the United States to take on the new challenge of launching Taiwan AI Lab (台灣人工智慧實驗室) during the lab’s open ceremony at Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) headquarters in Taipei Thursday.

Tu, who will head the open artificial intelligence (AI) platform, says he planned on returning to Taiwan and quit his high salary job as a Principal Software Engineering Manager at Microsoft in March prior to MOST Minister Chen Liang-gee's (陳良基) visit to the States that month.

“Taiwan is my home, and I am back with my parents,” said Tu. “I get bored if things become too easy, and always want to tackle new challenges.” After discussions with the minister, the lab was launched within one month.

One of the main aims of Taiwan AI Lab is to stop the exodus of Taiwanese skilled AI engineers and high technology talents to work for large international enterprises overseas, such as Microsoft, Google or Facebook, said Tu.

Taiwanese researchers were some of the earliest to develop AI technology in the Greater China region, and “National Taiwan University (NTU) data analysis teams have won the global Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (KDD) cup for at least eight consecutive years,” said Chen.

“We want to attract top talent to join our team,” said Tu. “AI is closely related to the functions of the human cognitive system, such as listening, speaking and viewing images, so we definitely need talents in speech recognition, speech understanding, speech output, image recognition, face detection, and object recognition and so on.” 

The Lab will look for three important innovations in AI fields, data innovations, algorithm and AI model innovations as well as AI User Experience Innovations from a bottom-up approach similar to PTT.

He also highlighted demands for recruiting NeuroNet talent, and those skilled in computer data analysis to crunch big data info. The company intends to host hackathon events in the future as part of its headhunting strategy to find the best global AI talents, and eventually launch a product.

Initially, the team will comprise a small group of 20 elite full-time engineers that might develop API or other open software kits for the public to tackle one to two challenges that the lab will post out each year.

To attract best Taiwanese and foreign AI talent, Tu said the institute that will open near the Taipei Main Train Station (台北火車站) next month, will offer reasonable salary and the highest salary for a local software company, but declined to disclose the exact figure. 

The lab is fully self-funded, and will not receive any government funding or venture capital.

Meanwhile, Tu has recruited senior engineers from MediaTek to help bootstrap the project, and talents from leading global AI research institutes to join.

“We hope Taiwan AI Lab can also upgrade Taiwan high-tech enterprises mentality from manufacturing aspects to seeking end-user solutions,” he added. “We might not be offering specific solutions for any industry at the moment, but we hope to eventually reach that point through bottom-up creative projects approach.”