Google plans to make another go at making friends in China by opening a new artificial intelligence (A.I.) lab, though its search engine remains blocked on the mainland since 2010.
In addition to the search engine, other services such as Maps, Gmail, and Docs remain blocked.
Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist for A.I. and machine learning (M.L.) at Google Cloud, made the announcement in a blog post during the company's Google Developer Days in Shanghai. It is the first center in Asia, but will share technology and knowledge with others who work from research centers in New York, Toronto, London, and Zurich.
It's not clear whether the opening of the research center will allow Google to gain intelligence through local workers, or whether it is a sign that the company plans to work more closely with the Chinese government to support local merchants and give U.S. companies a way to enter the Chinese market.
The confirmation comes months after a major push to hire talent focused on A.I. in the country.
Li, formerly the director of Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, joined Google one year ago. She will lead the China-based team alongside Jia Li, who was hired from Snap, where she spearheaded research.
Google supports hundreds of staffers in China who work on international services.
The Center will focus on A.I. and will consist of a team of researchers in Beijing, supported by Google China's engineering teams. In addition to publishing its own work, the Google AI China Center will publish its own work and support the AI research community by funding and sponsoring AI conferences and workshops, and working closely with the Chinese AI research community
"We’ve already hired some top experts, and will be working to build the team in the months ahead," she wrote. "Along with Dr. Jia Li, Head of Research and Development at Google Cloud AI, I’ll be leading and coordinating the research."
Still, Google is up against real talent at companies like Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent. While Baidu's quarterly growth mostly declined in the past year, in Q3 2017 that change when growth tool a jump of 22% compared with the prior quarter, according to Forrester research.