China to play crucial role in artificial intelligence, says Sundar Pichai

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks at an event to announce 'Digital Unlocked' skill program in New Delhi on Wednesday (Photo: Dalip Kumar)
Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google, expects China to play a crucial role in artificial intelligence as he keeps expanding the search giant’s workforce in the country, even as many of its services are blocked.

“China is already playing a big part in how AI will shape our futures,” Pichai said at the annual China Development Forum in Beijing. 

“When we build together we get to better ideas faster,” he said.

Google has invested in Chinese startups, forged a patent alliance with Tencent Holdings Ltd. and is pushing its TensorFlow AI tools in the country despite key services such as search and email remaining blocked. The Mountain View, California-based company recently opened a research lab in Beijing focused on AI, a blossoming field but one at the center of tensions between China and the US.

“We’ve already got a small team doing research there and look forward to expanding it,” he told an audience at the conference that was attended by senior government officials and executives including Apple CEO Tim Cook.

In 2010, Google refused to censor search results with China’s internet censors later blocking access. 

Now Google and Facebook Inc. are among foreign giants who regularly visit in an effort to curry favor and regain access to the lucrative market.

To illustrate China’s growing prowess, Pichai pointed to podcast service Cast Box as an example of local apps that are gaining international popularity.

Google’s lab falls under its cloud unit, and the company has suggested it’s open to entering mainland China with that business if it’s allowed to.

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