Embracing the Future

April 25, 2024

Embracing the Future 

XJTLU Executive President’s Postgraduate Commencement Speech 2024 

Dear students, colleagues, parents, and friends, 

Today, the campus of Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University is even livelier. Touching moments have been captured and stored in the album of memories: students standing in front of the mirror, donning their graduation gowns and adjusting their caps, and then turning around to give their friends a confident smile; families patting their shoulders as a recognition of their past efforts and perseverance, as well as hope for the future; students walking into the auditorium, filled with gratitude and aspirations... Today, we gather here because of them, and we are honoured to witness another significant moment in their lives. Please allow me to announce to the world: The Class of 2024, master’s and PhDs of XJTLU, have graduated! 

Aspirations and Reality 

The Class of 2024, master’s and PhD students, congratulations on your relentless efforts to climb higher, earning another milestone in your journey of learning. As your tassel is moved to the other side, your future unfolds. From the moment you throw your cap in the air after taking graduation photos, you embark on a new chapter of life in a new “role”, with dreams in your heart and blessings from your teachers, friends, and family. 

From the graduation speech keywords you recommended, it’s clear that there is a lot of anticipation for the future: integrating into society, applying what you’ve learned, realising grand visions during the prime of youth, and looking forward to a “happy life and successful career”. However, facing a complex and turbulent world and the drastic impacts of advanced technology on society, many of you also express confusion and anxiety. The confusion stems from how to position yourself in life, how to integrate professional skills into specific career paths, and the unease from the pressure and instability of the job market. Anxiety also arises in an era dominated by “social media influencers” and information overload, where social media and the internet create a “virtual showcase”, trapping people in a spiral of restlessness and relentless pursuit. It also stems from the gap between high expectations and reality, and the uncertainties and challenges brought by rapid societal developments. 

However, if you peel away these bubbles of confusion and anxiety, you will find a reality that is increasingly digital, platform-oriented, intelligent, and global. While these bubbles are being formed, they also provide excellent nourishment for innovation and creativity. In the face of rapidly evolving technologies like AI, people who are trapped in these bubbles without realising it will drift further away, unable to see and integrate into the real world. To break out of the bubbles that trap us, we need to understand and grasp the future development trends and the principles of competition. 

Overview and Looking beyond 

Understanding the future doesn’t mean we can predict it with a crystal ball. Instead, it’s about looking beyond societal dynamics and future trends to understand the underlying principles of competition. It involves taking a broad view of the current situation to see the essence behind appearances, and then, based on your personal interests, charting your own path of development. Throughout this journey, continuous reflection and adjustment are key to realising dreams and maintaining sustainable growth. 

Eight years ago, the news of AlphaGo defeating the world champion of Go with a score of 4:1 sparked widespread anticipation and imagination about AI. However, within just a few years, the rapid advancement of AI and other technologies has made “man versus machine” competitions meaningless due to the predictable results. Just over a month ago, Devin, who is claimed to be the world's first "AI software engineer," was introduced, marking our transition from surprise and curiosity to exploration of the coexistence and collaboration between human and human, human and machine, and also between machine and machine. The critical question seems to be how humans can maintain competitive within these three types of relationships. 

The degrees you’ve received merely signify that you have been studying and researching a specific field in a slightly deeper level; they are not a guarantee of your survival and development in society. Your competitiveness stems from your ability to innovate and think critically, which will enable you to find creative solutions to new problems and challenges. It lies in your ability to rationally analyse and extract valuable data amidst the flood of information, facilitating continuous improvement and innovation in your work. Your competitiveness also comes from a global perspective, diverse viewpoints, a grand vision, and a sense of social responsibility. They will empower you to navigate through uncertainty and grasp trends to make informed decisions. Furthermore, your competitiveness is derived from self-management, research-led work, communication and collaboration with both humans and machines, and a commitment to lifelong learning. These qualities allow you to remain clear-headed, focused, and at the forefront of modern technologies in this “restless” society. 

Cross-disciplinary, Integration, Focus, and Embracing the Future 

If personal qualities, high-level thinking, and comprehensive abilities are your compass, sails, and rudder, guiding you towards your ideals and braving the storms, navigating the ever-changing world, then, to surge forward and dance to the future tune, you need a clear strategy for future navigation. In short, it’s about crossing boundaries, integrating diverse perspectives, and maintaining focus. Excelling in these three areas will power your journey. 

Digitalisation and the Internet of Things are blurring the lines between people, objects, fields, organisations, and societies, making cross-disciplinary approaches essential to solving complex problems and innovating. By learning from other fields, you will gain new perspectives and enhance your problem-solving abilities. Collaboration between human and machine can accomplish tasks that were previously beyond human’s capabilities; and breaking down organisational boundaries can lead to unlimited benefits among others.  

Cross-disciplinary cooperation, with its resource sharing, information exchange, and diverse coexistence, paves the way for new ideas, sparks creativity, and facilitates transcendence. It’s also foundational for future career development. For instance, the “World Simulator” project, Sora, challenges film and art creators to embrace digital technology to maintain their creativity. AI software engineer Devin might soon replace programmers who only code, pointing towards a future where human intelligence dances with AI.  

In 2024, XJTLU made significant strides in cross-disciplinarity. The rapid development of the XJTLU AI Innovation Alliance offers new ideas for “Made with China Intelligence” through integrated mechanisms and innovative practices. The establishment of the Belt and Road Division at the College of Industry-Entrepreneurs paves new paths for XJTLU’s global expansion; the successful setup of X-Eco Mall contributes to the sustainable development of industrial innovation ecosystems. The XJTLU Advanced Materials Research Centre will become a flagship product for interdisciplinary collaboration among our staff and students, achieving seamless integration between technology, research, and industry.  

Notably, XJTLU has fully launched the “AI+” project, aiming to lead innovation and transformation in education, organisational management, and collaboration across academia, industry, government, and society. XJTLU’s cross-disciplinary layout and exploration not only build a platform for cooperative innovation but also foster a cross-disciplinary culture, stimulating cross-disciplinary thinking, courage, actions, and wisdom, leading to cross-disciplinary achievements! 

Successful crossing of boundaries relies on deep and intelligent integration, including the fusion of physical and human reasoning (science and humanity), the holistic philosophy prevalent in the East, and the analytical philosophy valued in the West. It also involves the integration of theory and practice, humans and machines, and human intelligence with digital intelligence. The ultimate goal of integration is to create an ecosystem and reap ecological dividends.  

A healthy ecosystem maintains its diversity and mechanisms for coexistence and mutual benefit, creating a win-win environment that fosters continuous innovation and sustainable development. Through crossing boundaries and integration, we can create unique value and competitiveness for each individual. If we have strong enough drive and ample resources, we can create an ecosystem that fully unleashes our value and creativity. Alternatively, if we are still relatively weak, we can choose to join others’ ecosystems to achieve shared, symbiotic, and mutually beneficial goals. For everyone, to embrace or be embraced by an ecosystem, you must develop your uniqueness and create your own value. This uniqueness depends on your field of choice and competitiveness, in other words, your qualities, vision, life orientation, and developmental capabilities. 

In vogue terms, the only constant is change and our original intention. Careers created through crossing disciplines and integration will continuously face disruptions from social media influencers and other challenges, making focus and resilience rare skills that will help you to achieve great heights in life. Many successful people say focus is their secret, and the biggest challenge on the path to success is maintaining focus. Just like you today, in your graduation gowns, finding and diligently working in your area of interest is a form of focus. Focus is also about the ability to filter out the restlessness. Nelson Mandela once said: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” I hope you face the difficulties without fear, focus on the trends rather than the noise, centre on your vision, aim at your goals, stay true to your original intention, and keep climbing. 

In summary, the future might be more complex and turbulent than we imagine, but if we follow our hearts, clearly define our life’s direction, and through crossing disciplines, integration, focusing in specific fields, and creating our unique “master stroke”, all the while maintaining a positive attitude, HeXie mindset, and Syntegrative intelligence, we can join or create ecosystems, achieving our dreams and sustainable development. 

In fact, no one knows exactly what the future holds, but it’s certain that the future is created by us all. You are the creators of the future! To the Class of 2024, master’s and PhD graduates, congratulations once again. Your voyage of life has set sail. I hope you embrace the future, brave the winds and waves, and create endless possibilities! 


Professor Youmin Xi
Executive President of XJTLU
Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool

April 25, 2024