Google Plans Big AI Push in China

Google is expanding its artificial intelligence, or AI research to China.

The search giant said Wednesday that it is opening a facility, Google AI China Center, intended to help the company conduct AI research in the country and hire employees with backgrounds in machine learning. The research facility will be based in Beijing, where Google has an existing office.

“Whether a breakthrough occurs in Silicon Valley, Beijing or anywhere else, it has the potential to make everyone’s life better for the entire world,” Fei-Fei Li, Google’s head of AI for its cloud computing business, said in a blog post. “As an AI first company, this is an important part of our collective mission. And we want to work with the best AI talent, wherever that talent is, to achieve it.”

China has become a hotbed of artificial intelligence research in recent years, Li says. Many of the research teams responsible for breakthroughs in deep learning that have led to computers automatically recognizing objects in photos are based in China, she wrote.

Google has a conflicted history in China, with its core search product is censored by the Chinese government because of the risk of residents there getting access to prohibited information. Still, Google operates a significant business in China including its popular Android operating system, which has been adopted by a growing number of Chinese smartphone companies.

People with backgrounds in artificial intelligence have become highly sought after by big tech companies like Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB), and Microsoft (MSFT). And those companies are heavily recruiting new talent and opening AI research labs worldwide in places like Montreal and Paris.

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One way Google has been trying to attract AI talent in China has been by promoting its free AI software for developers in the country, as Bloomberg News reported. Coders use the so-called TensorFlow software to create deep learning models that supercharge apps to do tasks like automatically translating text.

China now has “has one of the fastest growing TensorFlow developer communities in Asia,” the news article said. Still, despite the popularity of Google’s free AI software in China, the company faces many challenges attracting AI talent from competing local businesses like search giant Baidu.

Like Google, Baidu is also heavily pushing AI and has embarked on a hiring spree to improve its own translation services and self-driving car initiatives, among other projects. Baidu also operates an AI research lab in Silicon Valley.

In May, Chinese social media and technology conglomerate Tencent said it would open an AI lab in Seattle, signifying that Chinese tech companies are also trying to lure AI workers in the U.S.

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