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Google renews effort to penetrate China with debut of AI mini game on WeChat

The Google logo at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California Photo: AP

Since 2010 when Google withdrew many of its services from the Chinese mainland in defiance of Beijing's strict censorship rules, the US technology giant has never stopped its efforts to get back to the lucrative market. With China emerging as a hot destination for the global innovators, the company has tried to find a technological way to strengthen its foothold in the country.

The latest example of this effort is the launch of an artificial intelligence-driven mini program game last week on WeChat, China's most popular social media platform developed by Tencent, a leading Internet company in the country.

Caihua Xiaoge, or Pictionary with Little Google, is Google's first mini program game on WeChat, and is the WeChat version of its web-based game Quick Draw, which requires players to draw a simple sketch of a designated item within a limited amount of time. A mini program is different from an app as it allows users to directly and instantly use it on the WeChat platform without a separate download from an app store.

In Caihua Xiaoge, players are given 20 seconds to draw a named object on their smartphones and tablets, and can break into the next round if the Google artificial intelligence software correctly guesses what they have doodled. Players can also share their achievements on WeChat and compete with friends over the number of drawings that can be identified by the artificial intelligence machine.

The mini program game gained huge popularity on the day of debut, with many players posting the screenshots of the game on the WeChat platform and marveling at how smart the Google artificial intelligence software is.

Caihua Xiaoge is not just for fun; it has technological implications.

It is powered by the Google artificial intelligence neural network, which features the world's biggest database of more than 50 million free-hand sketches, most of which were collected on the web-based Quick Draw that was launched last year, Google said in a post released on its official WeChat public account last week.

In addition to amusing people and helping computers learn how to paint, the Google artificial intelligence neural network technology is expected to enable computers to recognize the faces of friends during video calls and help doctors analyze the diagnostic images of eye ground in examination of early diabetic symptoms, Google said in the post.

The game is meant to give people "the opportunity to experience just how natural AI-powered interactions can now be," Chris Tam, Google's product manager, said in a blog post.

Aiming high

The launch of the artificial intelligence-driven mini program game is just a tip of the iceberg. It reflects Google's bigger ambition for artificial intelligence, as the American technology giant is building collaboration with China in the research and development of the emerging technology. Chinese policymakers plan to create a domestic artificial intelligence industry worth approximately $150 billion in the following years.

Recently, Google and more than 20 prestigious experts held an artificial intelligence-themed seminar at Tsinghua University, where the top Chinese university announced the establishment of an artificial intelligence institute. At the opening ceremony of the institute, Tsinghua University granted a letter of appointment to Jeff Dean, co-founder of Google Brain, one of the company's artificial intelligence research arms, inviting him to be a member of the university's consultative committee of computer science.

The seminar is Google's first academic communication with Chinese universities. During the seminar, Dean shared his views about computer vision, machine learning, deep learning and the application of artificial intelligence in the medical industry, and expressed hope for closer collaboration with Chinese research institutions in artificial intelligence development.

In December 2017, Google set up the Google Artificial Intelligence China Center in Beijing in demonstration of its focus on China, where the government has identified several domestic technology giants including Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent as well as voice intelligence developer iFlyTek as the first members of a "national team", which is tasked with developing the next-generation artificial intelligence technologies that are vital to pushing the country toward global technology leadership.

The artificial intelligence research facility will play a major role in attracting China-based experts specialized in machine learning for Google's artificial intelligence research, in a bid to compete with its Chinese rivals which are ramping up investment in establishing artificial intelligence laboratories globally and recruiting talents across the globe.

The chairman of Google's parent company Alphabet, Eric Schmidt, has expressed his concern that China could catch up with the United States very quickly in the race to develop the cutting-edge artificial intelligence technologies if the United States fails to increase investment in the fundamental artificial intelligence research and make a change in the immigration and visa policies hindering the influx of global artificial intelligence talents and students.

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