Google plans to open a new AI research center in Beijing. The plans were announced today at the Google Developer Days event in Shanghai and outlined in a blog post by Google Cloud Chief Scientist AI/ML Fei-Fei Li. Why the move into China to find AI talent? Well, the competition for AI skills is widely known, but this comes down to demonstrated AI prowess by Chinese researchers. Li says:
China is home to many of the world’s top experts in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. All three winning teams of the ImageNet Challenge in the past three years have been largely composed of Chinese researchers. Chinese authors contributed 43 percent 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.
AI-First Means Follow the Talent
This move follows Google’s shift from a mobile-first to AI-first strategy. To win in AI, you must have top talent. Google’s Deepmind has loads of talent and is making AI breakthroughs. However, the application horizon of AI is so vast, thousands of AI researchers are needed.
Business Insider points to comments by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt recently that China will soon overtake the U.S. in AI development. “Trust me, these Chinese people are good,” said Schmidt at the Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Summit last month. As good as China talent may be in AI today, there is an explicit strategy to get even better. A current government initiative aims to make AI into a $59 billion Chinese industry by 2025.
But, Bloomberg’s Shelly Banjo and David Ramli suggest Google may face challenges building an AI presence in China.
Attracting top talent won’t be easy. Google faces fierce competition from Chinese giants Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Baidu Inc. The local rivals, which dominate the domestic tech scene, offer engineers a potent blend of unrivaled user datasets and lucrative salary packages.