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President's reply seen as great honor for academic

Letter: Educators, researchers motivated

By ZHAO YIMENG | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-19 00:10
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Andrew Chi-Chih Yao, a Turing Award winner and a professor at Tsinghua University. [Photo/Official Wechat account of Tsinghua University]

Andrew Chi-Chih Yao, a Turing Award winner and a professor at Tsinghua University, said he felt "extremely excited" and "greatly inspired" upon receiving a letter of reply from President Xi Jinping last week and will further engage in nurturing top talent and promoting interdisciplinary innovation.

In his recent reply to Yao, Xi, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, acknowledged the professor's unwavering dedication and remarkable achievements in teaching and scientific innovation over the years.

In a written reply to China Daily's interview questions, Yao, a renowned computer scientist, said: "Being able to contribute my modest efforts to China's great rejuvenation is something I take immense pride in and consider to be the greatest honor of my life. President Xi's encouragement has made me aware of the responsibility even more."

In the letter, Xi expressed his hope that Yao could adhere to his original aspiration and leverage his strengths to take the lead in the cultivation of innovative talent and fostering of interdisciplinary integration.

Xi also urged Yao to further help China achieve high-quality self-reliance and build the country into an educational, scientific and technological powerhouse.

Yao said, "I have increasingly felt that China has consistently regarded education, science and technology, and top talent as of the greatest importance for the nation."

China has made significant achievements in various educational and scientific endeavors in the past decade, accomplishing crucial long-term objectives, he added.

Born in 1946 in Shanghai, Yao earned his bachelor's degree in physics at Taiwan University and went on to study and work in the United States.

He made fundamental contributions to the theory of algorithms and data structure in the 1970s, and in 2000 he received the Turing Award in recognition of his contributions to the theory of computation.

Since Yao returned from the US and started teaching at Tsinghua 20 years ago, he said he never forgot his original intention to contribute to his home country.

The 77-year-old professor still teaches students courses at Tsinghua, including Theoretical Computer Science and Mathematics for Artificial Intelligence.

"Our students are very intelligent. The most important thing we need to do is to keep these smart and creative young people being curious and stimulate their desire for knowledge," Yao said.

Dai Yan, an undergraduate student of Yao's, said that the learning environment at Tsinghua is open and challenging, while students' interests are fully respected. More important, Yao's guidance and breakthroughs have greatly stimulated his interest in academia, Dai said.

"We are given valuable opportunities to engage with cutting-edge science at an early stage. The unique teaching approach has strengthened my determination to pursue a career in scientific research, just like Professor Yao," he said.

In April, Tsinghua established the College of AI and appointed Yao as its head. In Yao's eyes, China is at the forefront globally in AI applications and has held leading positions in theoretical breakthroughs and original innovations.

However, these advancements have not yet coalesced into a continuous stream and led to major breakthroughs, he said.

Yao said he believes that China can achieve remarkable progress and become a leader in original breakthroughs by leveraging its solid foundation in AI theory and technology, as well as continuously innovating talent development models.

'Driving force' for growth

"AI has become a driving force and catalyst for the development of many disciplines. It offers significant opportunities for advancement in education," Yao said.

"Young students can take advantage of the AI era, broaden their knowledge, and develop a strong interest in participating across multiple technological fields," he added.

Xu Yi, a graduate student at Renmin University of China's Gaoling School of Artificial Intelligence, said that Xi's letter is not only a recognition of Professor Yao's personal achievements, but also offers encouragement to all educators and researchers nationwide.

Zhu Bowei, a doctoral candidate at the school, said he was deeply moved and proud when he read Xi's letter to Yao.

Several teachers at the school were once students in the "Yao Class" at Tsinghua, which was established by Yao in 2005 to nurture promising undergraduate students in computer science.

"This connection makes me feel the continuity and inheritance of academic research, and ignites my passion in the field of AI," Zhu said.

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