Google Announces Plans To Open Artificial Intelligence Lab in China

A photo of Google's Beijing office.

Google’s Beijing office.
Photo credit: testing / Shutterstock

Google’s business has been largely absent from China since 2010, when the company pulled many of its core businesses out. Now, though, Google is returning to China with the announcement of a new Chinese center devoted to artificial intelligence. This is a small gesture but a strong symbolic move that represents the tech giant returning to the most populous nation on earth.

Google largely pulled out of China seven years ago, citing government controls and surveillance initiatives that ran counter to its guiding philosophy of a free and open internet. Since then, however, China has made a resurgence as one of the world’s leading tech powers. This is why, as The New York Times reported, Google is putting a team of experts in Beijing for further research and development of AI. The office will be led by Fei-Fei Li, who’s currently in charge of the AI lab at Stanford. She will join Jia Li, the head of AI research and development for Google Cloud.

“We have 600-plus employees in China, and we had a similar number in 2010,” Google spokesman Taj Meadows told the Times. “Roughly half of them are engineers working on global products. Work on A.I. will be in a similar vein.”

Google is not the only tech company to capitalize on the progress China has made in recent years. Microsoft and IBM are also hard at work on hiring Chinese staff members. This movement coincides with efforts from the Chinese government to upgrade the country’s tech infrastructure and move away from foreign-made hardware and software.

The relationship between Google and China continues to evolve. In 2010, the company said that it could no longer tolerate China’s stance on censorship, as well as the government’s alleged hacking of some human rights activists’ Gmail accounts. Google never left China entirely, though, and it now looks poised to rebuild its presence among the world’s largest population of internet users.

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