Google’s decision to open a research facility in Beijing even though its search services remain blocked in the country speaks volumes about how the tech giant is probably recognising that it will have to look at China as a contender
Even as Google’s products remain blocked in the country, the US search firm said on Wednesday that it is opening an artificial intelligence (AI) research centre in China which will be first-of-its-kind in Asia and will employ local talent. It added that the team will operate out of its existing office in Beijing.
It is interesting to note that the development comes a few months after China announced its national plan for AI, calling for the country to catch up with the US. A report prepared by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a research arm of the US intelligence community, had cited public documents and claimed that China’s People’s Liberation Army was investing in a range of AI-related projects and PLA research institutes were partnering with the Chinese defence industry. “The PLA anticipates that the advent of AI could fundamentally change the character of warfare,” it had said.
Even though the US has been at the helm of technological developments on the global platform, a report published jointly by New York-based research consultancy Eurasia Group and Beijing-based VC firm Sinovation Ventures on December 6 outlined how China has been making rapid advances in AI over the past few years. The fact that Google has chosen to open a research facility in Beijing even though its search services remain blocked in the country speaks about how the US is probably recognising that it will have to look at China as a contender.
In a blog post on the company’s website, Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist at Google Cloud AI and Machine Learning, said, “Whether a breakthrough occurs in Silicon Valley, Beijing or anywhere else, [AI] has the potential to make everyone’s life better for the entire world.” Google operates two offices in China, with about half of its 600 employees working on global products.
Google’s search engine is banned in the Chinese market along with its app store, email and cloud storage services. China’s cyber regulators say restrictions on foreign media and Internet platforms are designed to block influences that contravene stability and socialist ideas.
While tightening restrictions are likely to hamper a re-entry to the Chinese market for Google, the firm has increasingly focused on exposing its AI products in China. This year Google held a Go tournament in cooperation with local authorities in eastern China, pitching its AI against Chinese world champion Go player Ke Jie. The event was highly publicised overseas but local media was muted.
Earlier this month, Google CEO Sundar Pichai made an appearance at a conference run by the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s top cyber regulator, where he steered away from market access issues to discuss the potential of AI.
Google said the new Chinese AI research centre will join a list of similar overseas centres operating in New York, Toronto, London and Zurich.