Silicon Valley vs. China: Arms race for AI talent – China business and technology news from May 2, 2017

Business & Technology

A summary of today’s top news in Chinese business and technology. Part of the daily SupChina news roundup "Internet news in censors’ crosshairs, again."


The Financial Times reports (paywall) that Tencent, the company behind the WeChat app, will open a lab in Seattle to develop artificial intelligence (AI) technology, led by Dong Yu (俞栋), who previously worked at Microsoft China as principal researcher. Tencent’s new American lab will focus on speech recognition. Last April, Tencent established an AI lab in Shenzhen, employing “50 computer scientists and 200 engineers.” The company plans to apply its AI technology to social media, online games, and cloud services as well as to content such as online news platforms.

Search giant Baidu, which in 2014 was the first Chinese tech firm to open a U.S.-based AI lab, last week announced plans to open a second one, according to Caixin. Both labs are located in Silicon Valley. In late March, the company lost the head of its data and artificial intelligence research division, Andrew Ng, who helped start Google’s deep learning initiative. But Baidu’s founding CEO Robin Li 李彦宏 has been stepping up efforts to woo foreign talent. In March, he urged official delegates at the Two Sessions to make China more welcoming to international staff, and said that Trump’s restrictive immigration policies offered “a great opportunity” for China to attract talent from Silicon Valley. Last week, he told CNN that “this is a good time for China to stand up and say, ‘Hey, come to us. We like you. We welcome immigrants.’”

In March this year, Didi Chuxing, the rideshare behemoth that ate Uber alive in China, announced the opening of its AI lab in Silicon Valley. TechCrunch reported that “the new center is part of a move to suck up talent beyond Didi’s current catchment pool in China, particularly in the areas of AI and self-driving vehicles, but it doesn’t signal an expansion of its service into North America.”