Google to open Chinese artificial intelligence research lab

13 Dec 2017

Beijing, the location of Google’s new AI research centre. Image: Ricky Shen/Shutterstock

Google’s announcement about a new facility in China comes after a period of speculation and a talent hunt in the country.

As a country, China is both strict on foreign firms influencing its population, and supportive of AI research and development, and Google has been making efforts to demonstrate its AI products there.

A new Beijing centre was announced today (13 December) in Shanghai, and will be led by Fei-Fei Li, a professor at Stanford University who is chief scientist of AI and machine learning at Google Cloud, and Dr Jia Li, head of research and development at Google Cloud AI.

Showcasing AI in China

Google describes itself as an “AI-first” firm. It is extending its artificial intelligence research into China, despite its search engine, App Store, email and cloud services being banned in the country.

The South China Morning Post reported that Google CEO Sundar Pichai appeared at a state-run internet conference in Wuzhen, near Shanghai, at the beginning of September.

Prof Fei-Fei Li said that China is a prime location for an AI centre, citing the contributions of Chinese researchers to the field and general enthusiasm for the field in the country. “Chinese authors contributed 43pc of all content in the top 100 AI journals in 2015. And, when the Association for the Advancement of AI discovered that their annual meeting overlapped with Chinese New Year this year, they rescheduled.”

Ensuring AI benefits all of society

She spoke of the changes AI was bringing about in society in a multitude of areas: “Humanity is going through a huge transformation thanks to the phenomenal growth of computing and digitisation. In just a few years, automatic image classification in photo apps has become a standard feature.

“And we’re seeing rapid adoption of natural language as an interface with voice assistants like Google Home. At Cloud, we see our enterprise partners using AI to transform their businesses in fascinating ways at an astounding pace.

“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.”

The Chinese centre joins other research groups in New York, Toronto, London and Zurich.

It will fund and sponsor AI conferences and workshops, collaborating with the Chinese AI research community.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects