There is heated competition between the US and China as to which will be the world leader in artificial intelligence (AI). That competition just got a little more intense with Google announcement that it is opening an AI centre in the country.

To be sure, this decision has much to do with Google’s desire to return to the Chinese market after decamping seven years ago. But the move also illustrates China’s strong global expertise in AI. One conclusion made in a report by the Eurasia Group in New York and Beijing-based Sinovation Ventures was that Beijing will rise to become an AI innovation centre at the level of Silicon Valley, “overtaking the likes of Toronto, Montreal and London”.


Google, for its part, makes no secret about China’s place in the AI world ecosystem. China is home to many of the world’s top experts in artificial intelligence and machine learning, Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist AI for Google Cloud, wrote in a blog post announcing the decision: “All three winning teams of the ImageNet Challenge in the past three years have been largely composed of Chinese researchers. Chinese authors contributed 43% of all content in the top 100 AI journals in 2015, and when the Association for the Advancement of AI discovered that their annual meeting overlapped with Chinese New Year this year, they rescheduled.”

The Google AI China Centre, the company’s first such centre in Asia, will be located in Beijing.

Clearly Ms Li has high hopes for the venture – she will be heading it  and, as she writes, she believes that AI and its benefits have no borders – but some observers would question whether Google may be putting its intellectual property at risk. China is known for its technology transfer requests; indeed, a US-China Business Council survey released in December cited this among the challenges facing foreign companies in China.

This surely cannot be news to Google and it may well be that the company feels it has no choice but to tap China for its talent and infrastructure in order to remain competitive. "The protection of IP is important to us," a Google spokesperson told fDi Magazine. "The AI Centre will focus on basic AI research and building the team out in the coming months.”

As the Eurasia Group/Sinovation Ventures report noted, a “huge army” of young scientists is amassing in China to study AI. “Unparalleled government support will significantly accelerate China’s AI development,” it concluded.