Google has officially announced that it is opening an AI center in Beijing, China.
The confirmation comes after months of speculation fueled by a major push to hire AI talent inside the country.
Google’s search engine is blocked in China, but the company still has hundreds of staff in China which work on its international services. In reference to that workforce, Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt has said the company “never left” China, and it makes sense that Google wouldn’t want to ignore China’s deep and growing AI talent pool, which has been hailed by experts that include former Google China head Kaifu Lee.
Like the general talent with Google China, this AI hiring push isn’t a sign that Google will launch new services in China. Although it did make its Google Translate app available in China earlier this year in a rare product move on Chinese soil.
Instead, the Beijing-based team will work with AI colleagues in Google offices across the world, including New York, Toronto, London and Zurich.
“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. 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,” wrote Dr. Fei-Fei Li, Chief Scientist at Google Cloud, in a blog post announcing plans for the China lab.
Li, formerly the director of Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, was a high-profile arrival when she joined Google one year ago. She will lead the China-based team alongside Jia Li, who was hired from Snap where she had been head of research at the same time as Li.
The China lab has “already hired some top talent” and there are currently more than 20 jobs open, according to a vacancy listing.
“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,” Li added.
Google is up against some tough competitors for talent. Aside from the country’s three largest tech companies Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba, ambitious $30 billion firm Bytedance — which acquired Musical.ly for $1 billion — and fast-growing companies Sense Time all compete for AI engineers with compensation deals growing higher.