Google May Be Advancing China’s Artificial Intelligence Aims With New Research Center


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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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One Silicon Valley tech giant’s latest efforts to re-enter the Chinese market may be advancing the country’s interests in becoming a global leader in artificial intelligence.

Google’s first A.I. research center in Asia will be located in Beijing, Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist at Google’s AI business, revealed Wednesday, asserting, “I believe A.I. and its benefits have no borders. 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.”

The Chinese government, however, has a different view when it comes to the internet, advocating for cybersovereignty, and Google’s main products and services, such as the Google search engine, YouTube, and Gmail, are locked outside the Great Firewall, the country’s vast censorship apparatus.

Furthermore, the state creates an environment advantageous for domestic tech companies but often detrimental for foreign companies interested in gaining access to the Chinese market. “Chinese companies have been investing heavily in artificial intelligence (AI) technologies over the past five years, and the central government has offered continuous policy support,” Global Times, a highly nationalist Chinese media outlet, wrote in October. The article suggested that China is emerging as a “leading player” in A.I. technology and research.

This past summer, China laid out a plan to become an A.I. superpower. Li Meng, the vice minister of science and technology, said China should be on par with other leading countries in A.I. technology in research by 2020, and by the end of the following decade, China should be the global “innovation center for A.I.”

China intends to develop a domestic artificial intelligence industry worth $150 billion in the next few years. Russian President Vladimir Putin predicts that “whoever becomes the leader” in A.I. “will become the ruler of the world.”

Google pulled out of China seven years ago due to concerns about Chinese government ambitions, but the lure of China’s more than 700 million internet users appears hard to resist, as the tech giant has made its interests in returning to China clear. “Google is for everyone,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said last year, “We want to be in China serving Chinese users.”

Google’s new A.I. research center is an opportunity for the company to make its way back into China, which maintains strict control over its internet.

“The Google A.I. China Center will also support the A.I. research community by funding and sponsoring A.I. conferences and workshops, and working closely with the vibrant Chinese A.I. research community,” Li revealed. The new facility rely on a few top researchers in Beijing supported by hundreds of Chinese engineers, the China Daily reports. “We look forward to working with the brightest AI researchers in China to help find solutions to the world’s problems,” Li wrote, stressing once again that the artificial intelligence field has no borders.

Google did not respond to requests for comment.

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Ryan Pickrell