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Google hiring Beijing-based AI talents possibly for return to China

The Google logo in Cologne, Germany, on September 14, 2016. Photo: Getty Images

Despite having its search engine and mobile app store Google Play blocked in China, US technology giant Google has never scaled back efforts to connect itself with the country's technology talents, as the world's second-largest economy seeks to become a global innovation hub.

With China considering technological innovation as a key driving force of its slowing economy, the Silicon Valley behemoth is running job ads on its career site in Beijing for artificial intelligence (AI) researchers including a technical lead assigned to establish a software engineering team in the Chinese capital to work on the state-of-the-art AI solutions such as natural language processing and data compression. Two of the jobs are related to machine learning in Google's cloud computing operation.

The recruitment comes just months after Google held an attention-getting AI summit in the southern Chinese town of Wuzhen in May, where the Mountain View, California-based company hinted that it was planning to build an AI research team based in China, which is widely considered as a good place to advance parts of the AI technology due to its huge pool of personal data that can be used for AI research and its role as a big market for AI applications.

Analysts said that the vast amounts of data that China has from mobile payments, gaming, social media applications and search would be of great importance to the global technology companies which are scrambling for data to improve their AI algorithms.

According to a report published on the foxbusiness.com, a person close to the matter said that Google was improving its algorithms by employing top talents in China, where nearly 60 related positions are available in Beijing and Shanghai.

Since 2010, when it pulled back most of its operations from the Chinese mainland due to concerns over the trenchant censorship rules and a cyber attack it blamed on the Chinese hackers, Google has maintained a limited presence in the country with an advertising sales team of nearly 600 employees to meet the demand of Chinese companies to reach to foreign customers through its search engine.

But in the recent two years, there have been signs that Google has ramped up its presence in China by ingratiating itself with the country's aggressive developers especially those in the AI sector, largely in the hope of making the best use of the Chinese technology resources and seeking an opportunity to re-enter the lucrative market.

The Chinese government has predicted that the AI industry would generate more than 400 billion yuan ($59 billion) of output every year by 2025, with a goal of making China a global leader in the AI technology by 2030.

In addition to creating an AI team in Beijing, Google has been promoting TensorFlow in China, an open-source software library for machine learning across a range of tasks in the era of AI.

Google reportedly pins high hopes on the role of TensorFlow in enabling the Chinese firms to get machine intelligence knowhow through access to the platform, which Google wants to develop into a global system of machine learning algorithms and automated learning.

During the Wuzhen summit, Rajat Monga, engineering director at TensorFlow which is developed by Google Brain, told reporters that the TensorFlow platform had gained strong popularity among the Chinese users with more than 140,000 downloads as of then. Some of the Chinese users have also localized the platform for better use by the domestic developers.

Google has also launched a locally focused developers' website to keep the Chinese developers better informed by providing its technologies and services as well as the latest technical information related to the Android and Firebase platforms. Last month, the website issued a notice saying that all the developers, researchers and companies in China would find it easier to search the existing application programming interfaces (API) and the methods of model building on the tensorflow.google.cn, the Chinese website of TensorFlow.

The push to cozy up to the Chinese AI developers is closely associated with the future business interest of Google, which sees TensorFlow as a major weapon to keep its leading position amid competition from the global and Chinese rivals including Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent.

Baidu, the operator of the largest search engine in China, has shifted its focus to the AI industry, stepping up efforts to enlist AI talents from home and abroad. Baidu is also embedding the AI technology into its search engine. Alibaba, China's largest e-commerce company, and Tencent, one of the leading technology and Internet companies in the country, have also spent a lot to attract talents from top Chinese universities.

Anyway, currying favor with the Chinese developers reflects Google's intention to come back to the Chinese market, with an ultimate goal of bringing back the money-making search engine to the country.

Recently, there were some domestic media reports saying that Google Play could be accessed in the Chinese mainland now and then as a result of Google's long-time efforts to improve its relationship with the Chinese government, which has increasingly become hard-handed on the insubordinate Western technology companies since Xi Jinping took power in 2012.


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