Google is opening a new AI research centre in China

Eric Schmidt is the chairman of Alphabet, Google's parent company.

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Eric Schmidt is the chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company.
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REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

  • Google is opening a new artificial intelligence centre in China.
  • There is a fierce battle for AI talent taking place between the world’s biggest technology companies.
  • China is home to some of the smartest minds in the field of AI and Google is keen to recruit them.

Google is opening a new artificial intelligence (AI) research centre in China as it looks to expand further into the country and capitalise on the nation’s highly regarded AI expertise.

AI is one of the most competitive fields on the planet right now and tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple are searching far and wide for the best talent, offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.

The Google AI China Center will consist of a small group of researchers supported by several hundred China-based engineers, according to Bloomberg.

The move is interesting given Google’s complex relationship with China. Some of the company’s best-known products have been blocked by China’s government in recent years. But top executives at Google are keen to expand into the country. Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai have visited the country this year. As have the leaders of DeepMind, an AI research lab in London that was bought by Google in 2014.

Fei-Fei Li, chief Scientist of AI/ML (machine learning) at Google Cloud, and one of the centre’s leaders, announced the new Beijing facility in a blog post on Wednesday. “I am excited to launch the Google AI China Center, our first such center in Asia,” Fei-Fei Li wrote.

“This Center joins other AI research groups we have all over the world, including in New York, Toronto, London and Zurich, all contributing towards the same goal of finding ways to make AI work better for everyone.”

Fei-Fei Li will run the centre with Jia Li, head fo research and development at Google Cloud AI.

The centre will publish its own research and support the Chinese AI community by funding and sponsoring AI conferences and workshops, Fei-Fei Li said.

Google uses AI to automatically classify images and to power its voice assistant, which sits inside products like Google Home. But Fei-Fei Li warned that work needs to be done to ensure that AI needs to remain a benefit to all of humanity.

“As technology starts to shape human life in more profound ways, we will need to work together to ensure that the AI of tomorrow benefits all of us,” she said. “The Google AI China Center is a small contribution to this goal. We look forward to working with the brightest AI researchers in China to help find solutions to the world’s problems.”

Eric Schmidt thinks China will overtake the US on AI by 2025

Last month, Schmidt warned that China is poised to overtake the US in the field of AI if the US government doesn’t act soon.

Speaking at the Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Summit, the former Google CEO said: “Trust me, these Chinese people are good.”

He added: “It’s pretty simple. By 2020 they will have caught up. By 2025 they will be better than us. And by 2030 they will dominate the industries of AI. Just stop for a sec. The [Chinese] government said that.”

Schmidt said that Chinese people “tend to win many of the top spots” in Google’s coding competitions.

“If you have any kind of prejudice or concern that somehow their system and their educational system is not going to produce the kind of people that I’m talking about, you’re wrong.”