Google Opens AI Centre In China Despite Search Ban

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Google to open AI research centre in China, despite country’s ban on its products

Alphabet’s Google unit has made a puzzling announcement for some, after it said it would open an artificial intelligence (AI) research centre in China – despite the fact its core search engine service remains blocked in the country.

But Google claims the Chinese centre will allow it to tap into “talented Chinese engineers, researchers and technologists, as it said that “China is home to many of the world’s top experts in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.”

China © Stephen Finn, Shutterstock 2012

 

No Borders

Google said the Chinese AI research centre based in its existing office in Beijing would be the first its kind in Asia, and it will join Google’s other AI research groups located in New York, Toronto, London and Zurich.

“Since becoming a professor 12 years ago and joining Google a year ago, I’ve had the good fortune to work with many talented Chinese engineers, researchers and technologists,” said Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist at Google Cloud AI and Machine Learning. “China is home to many of the world’s top experts in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.”

“I believe AI 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,” Li wrote. “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.”

She indicated that the Chinese AI research centre would focus on “basic AI research” and will consist of “a team of AI researchers in Beijing, supported by Google China’s strong engineering teams.”

She said that Google has already hired some top experts, and more will join the team going forward.

“Along with Dr. Jia Li, Head of Research and Development at Google Cloud AI, I’ll be leading and coordinating the research,” Li wrote. “Besides publishing its own work, the Google AI China Center will also support the AI research community by funding and sponsoring AI conferences and workshops, and working closely with the vibrant Chinese AI research community.”

She pointed out that AI is now at the forefront of driving tech transformation, whether it is automatic image classification in photo apps, or the widespread adoption of natural language as an interface with voice assistants like Google Home.

“The Google AI China Center is a small contribution to this goal,” she wrote. “We look forward to working with the brightest AI researchers in China to help find solutions to the world’s problems. Once again, the science of AI has no borders, neither do its benefits.”

China Exit

But doing business in China comes at a hefty price, as Google has found out to its cost in recent years.

Earlier this year for example, the Chinese government brought out strict rules on foreign firms, including tough new censorship restrictions.

And Google’s search engine service has been banned in China for many years now, as the Chinese government sees to impose its “great firewall” to censor online content it deems to be politically sensitive.

Google’s Gmail service has also been banned in that country for many years. Google effectively withdrew from China in 2010 after it said it would no longer censor search results in China following a high profile cyber attack that resulted in the illegal access of Gmail accounts belonging to Chinese human rights activists.

Google accused Chinese-based hackers of carrying out the attacks on the Gmail accounts, an accusation that China has always denied. That cyber attack triggered a huge political row between America and China in 2010 and 2011, and resulted in Google effectively retreating from the Chinese market after it refused to abide by that country’s censorship rules.

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