Google Builds China Workforce to Develop Machine Learning & AI

Google Builds China Workforce to Develop Artificial Intelligence

Alphabet unit is seeking engineers to fill jobs related to AI, cloud computing in country seen as having certain advantages over U.S.

By Alyssa Abkowitz in Beijing and Liza Lin in Shanghai Sept. 4, 2017 6:54 a.m. ET

Alphabet Inc.’s Google is ramping up its presence in China, hiring engineers to specialize in one of technology’s hottest corners: artificial intelligence.

The Silicon Valley behemoth has recently posted at least four AI-related jobs on its career site in Beijing, including a technical lead to develop a team to work on natural language processing, data compression and other machine learning technologies. Two of the jobs are related to machine learning in Google’s cloud-computing operation.

Google Cloud currently doesn’t operate in China. The company would need a local partner and special licenses to establish the business here.

Broadly defined, AI involves computers that learn from the information they process. China, with hundreds of millions of people connected to the internet and few qualms about privacy, is seen as having advantages over the U.S. as a place to advance parts of the technology.

“China has a lot of data from mobile payments, gaming, social, search and news,” said Kitty Fok, China managing director at consulting firm IDC. “Technology companies like Google are keen to learn what’s going on and getting large amounts of data to create AI algorithms is very important to them.”

There are nearly 60 positions available in Beijing and Shanghai combined on the company’s careers web page. A person familiar with the positions said Google is focused on hiring top talent and improving the quality of its algorithms.

Google pulled back from China in 2010 on concerns over censorship and after a cyberattack in which some of the company’s proprietary computer code was stolen. Google said it had traced the attack to Chinese hackers. The company’s search engine can be accessed here only by using virtual private networks, or VPNs, to bypass the government’s complex internet filtering system, known as the “Great Firewall.”

Even so, Google has continued to maintain some operations in China and some analysts have said they believe the company is looking to expand its presence. This past spring, the southern city of Wuzhen hosted a three-game rematch in the ancient strategy game of Go between Google’s AI program AlphaGo and China’s 19-year-old human world champion. At the event, Google Cloud executive Jia Li said she was looking to hire AI engineers in China to add to its more than 500 employees in Beijing and Shanghai.

While the Mountain View, Calif., company is building its workforce here, Chinese rivals are setting up AI research-and-development facilities in the U.S.

Earlier this year, Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. said it would open an AI center in Seattle to focus on speech recognition and natural language understanding. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Baidu Inc. have R&D centers in Silicon Valley.

—Yang Jie contributed to this article.


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