According to Bloomberg, Google is looking to re-enter the Chinese market via one of the most competitive segments in technology – Artificial Intelligence. Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, announced that it was opening a new research facility focused on AI in Beijing. The announcement was made at the company’s second annual developers’ conference in Shanghai. This research center will have a small group of researchers who will be supported by hundreds of engineers based out of China.
According to New York Times, the research facility will be spearheaded by Fei-Fei Li and Jia Li. Fei-Fei Li is currently the director of Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Standford University. She also heads the AI segment of Google’s Cloud division. Jia Li is currently the head of the AI research and development department for Google’s Cloud business.
Google has not specified how many people it would hiring for this new facility or how much it would cost. Fei-Fei Li, in a statement said that it was going to be a small team that will be focused on research and development in Artificial Intelligence which will be published in scientific journals, conferences and via knowledge exchange.
In 2010, the company exited some of its core businesses from China after it went head-to-head with the Chinese Government. The Chinese government had directed Google to censor search content which the company refused to do as it would be against their commitment to an open as well as free internet (New York Times). This led to most of Google’s services being blocked in China.
Despite a rocky relationship with the Chinese government, Google did not completely abandon the country. The company still has an active online ad distribution business for PCs and mobile apps. And Chinese smartphone makers still use the Google Android software.
Google is not the first big tech name to set up an AI division in China. IBM and Microsoft are among the numerous companies that are vying for the AI space in China. In fact, the local brands like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu will prove to be tough competition; they offer their engineers an intoxicating blend of top-of-the-line datasets as well as very lucrative salaries.
The Chinese government has been actively promoting research and development into Artificial Intelligence. In fact, the government has made AI a national priority. In July, the Chinese government announced that it planned to develop the AI industry to generate 400 billion Yuan – about $60 billion – by 2025. The government also expected China to be a world leader in this science by 2030. There is a two-fold purpose to this – to upgrade the country’s expertise in technology and to stop being dependent on foreign software and equipment.
The advantage that China has is that it has the largest population in the world of internet users. For AI to work effectively, huge amounts of detailed data about users is required. Thankfully, those 731 million Chinese internet users tend to be more detail oriented that Western users, meaning that data is more easily available for AI to work. Thanks to the data available in China, the country has been the center of developing some of the biggest leaps in technology in fields such as Deep Learning.
Fei-Fei Li, the future head of this AI research facility, states that currently, Google will not be concentrating on data, rather they are focused on attracting the best research talent in the country to help delve deeper into AI as a subject. She also said that should they require data, there are plenty of open-source datasets that can be utilized, so at this point, data will not be problem for Google.