Google is building an artificial intelligence team in Beijing, China, despite having its search engine and mobile app store banned in the country.
The search giant has been recruiting heavily over the past year, and in May hinted that an AI research team based in China could be on the cards, according to the Financial Times.
Engineering talent in China has forced many Western companies to set up research and incubators, allowing them to hire even when their services are banned.
Google is going up against local search rival Baidu, which has invested heavily into AI research and self-driving cars over the past three years. Like Google, Baidu has unveiled an autonomous shuttle service and is embedding AI into its search engine.
Alibaba and Tencent, who with Baidu make up the “big three” in China, also spend a lot hiring engineering talent from top Chinese universities.
Google has around 600 employees based in China, mostly focused on advertising.
China wants to lead
The Chinese government has set a goal of becoming a world leader in AI by 2030. It already has one of the largest engineering talent pools, although experts still think the U.S. and Britain has an edge when it comes to division leaders.
Google has had a tough relationship with the Chinese government. Seven years ago, the company accused the government of a cyberattack that tried to find information on human rights activists. Shortly after, Google stopped censoring search results in the country, and was quickly banned.
The relationship is apparently warmer now, but Google is far away from having its services unbanned, if it even wants to work under China’s censorship.