Despite being all but locked out of China, Google is ramping up efforts to tap a vital technology resource in the country: engineering talent.
The US tech giant is advertising for artificial-intelligence experts in Beijing, where it has expanded rapidly in the past few years. Google hinted in May, at an AI summit near Shanghai, that it was looking to set up its first China-based AI research team.
The move pits Google in the race for talent against domestic group Baidu, which is also headquartered in Beijing’s northwestern tech village and has been stepping up its own efforts to hire AI researchers in Beijing and Silicon Valley.
“Google’s recruiting creates additional pressures for [its competitors],” said Mark Natkin of Beijing-based tech research firm Marbridge Consulting. “There’s still great benefits for a Chinese engineer going to work for a large US firm, in the same way there’s [more] cachet in going to a second-tier UK university than a top Chinese one,” he added.
Although Google’s search engine has been blocked in China since 2010, the company has maintained a presence in the country and has made progress in mending relations, most recently by collaborating with local government on the AI summit in the town of Wuzhen.
It has relaunched Google Translate, which was previously blocked, as a Chinese-language mobile app, and earlier this year a senior official told the Financial Times that relations with Google were improving.
But its Google Play app store is blocked in China — home to a third of the world’s users of Google’s Android smartphone operating system.
For its part, China’s government considers technological innovations such as AI key to reviving its slowing economy, and has outlined plans to become the world’s premier AI innovation hub by 2030.
China has the benefit of huge pools of personal data to feed into AI research, and a vast market for AI applications for its smartphone-savvy consumers. But experts say it lags behind the US in fundamental AI research.
Analysts say that while Beijing’s universities are turning out plenty of computer-science talent, there is a lack of top-level figures such as Baidu’s former chief scientist Andrew Ng, who left the company earlier this year.
Four of 20 positions being advertised by Google in Beijing are for its machine learning programme — part of its AI research initiative — and require expert qualifications equivalent to those held by an assistant professor.
Google’s more than 600 employees in mainland China include an advertising sales team, where business is booming as a result of Chinese companies’ desire to attract foreign customers, and engineers working on Google’s still-blocked search engine.
Google declined to make any immediate comment on its AI hiring plans.Discover More