Google is blocked in China, but that's not stopping it from opening an A.I. center there

  • Google is opening an artificial intelligence center in China
  • The Google AI China Center will be the first facility of its kind in Asia
  • Google's website and cloud services are blocked in China, but the tech giant is keen on snagging the top researchers in the country
Go player Ke Jie takes on Google's artificial intelligence program AlphaGo on May 23, 2017, in China.
STR | AFP | Getty Images
Go player Ke Jie takes on Google's artificial intelligence program AlphaGo on May 23, 2017, in China.

Google's popular search service might be blocked on the Chinese mainland, but that's not stopping the company from expanding its presence in the country's burgeoning artificial intelligence sector.

Google's parent Alphabet said in a statement that it had launched the Google AI China Center on Wednesday in Shanghai, the company's first facility of its kind in Asia. The center is focused on "basic AI research" and will be made up of a team of researchers based in Beijing.

The center will be headed by Fei-Fei Li, a Stanford University professor who is chief scientist of AI and machine learning at Google Cloud, and Jia Li, head of research and development at Google Cloud AI.

The tech giant's AI push in China comes amid growing recognition of the country's rise as a major contender in the space. While the U.S. is often regarded as the leading AI powerhouse globally, Goldman Sachs acknowledged in a September report that China was among the countries hot on the U.S.' heels.

With AI talent in short supply, Google's latest push in China is also an opportunity for the company to snap up top researchers in the world's second-largest economy.

"I believe AI and its benefits have no borders. Whether a breakthough occurs in [the] Silicon Valley, Beijing or anywhere else, it has the potential to make everyone's life better ... As an AI-first company, this is an important part of out collective mission. And we want to work with the best AI talent, wherever that talent is, to achieve it," Fei-Fei Li wrote in a statement.

Despite Google's website, cloud services and video platform YouTube being currently blocked in China, the company has continued to engage with the market.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai attended a state-run internet conference in Wuzhen earlier in December, where he outlined how small and medium-sized enterprises on the mainland have benefited from the use of Google services, the South China Morning Post reported.

Earlier in the year, the company put on a show on the mainland when it put its AI technology up to the test by making it compete with top human Go players. The game, which eventually resulted in Go world champion Ke Jie losing to Google's AlphaGo, was censored in China.