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    Scholar Explains Why AI Professionals Leaving US IT Giants to Join Chinese Firms

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    China is becoming more promising for scientists and engineers than the US' Silicon Valley as the People's Republic's technological development has in many ways caught up with that of the US, Li Kai, a researcher at the Shanxi University of Finance and Economics (SXUFE), told Sputnik.

    "The growth of the Chinese economy has continued for almost 40 years, production is developing rapidly, the gap with Western countries is narrowing", Li Kai told Sputnik China. "In some areas, for example, in artificial intelligence and 5G, we are going head to head with the United States".

    Li explained that, in contrast with the US, China is not experiencing a shortage of investment. He argues that some advanced technologies, for instance, autonomous vehicles, should be developed synchronously with traditional industries. However, in the post-industrial era some traditional sectors had been liquidated in the US, the scholar remarked.

    "Additionally, China is spending a lot to attract talented professionals and investing in research and development. Therefore China, and especially Shenzhen and Shanghai have become very appealing for foreign specialists," Li said.

    He pointed out that lots of Chinese who used to study abroad were returning home as China's "innovation environment" had significantly improved over the years.

    The scholar highlighted that the Chinese government has done a lot to attract new specialists to fulfil the ambitious task of making the country a global leader in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030. For their part, foreign high-tech professionals and developers can now get Chinese visas for a period of five to ten years due to new exemptions, according to the scholar. In addition, they can enter the country an unlimited number of times.

    Meanwhile, the so-called "national champions" — the largest technological giants such as Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent, — command great support from the Chinese authorities, Li noted.

    The government support allows Chinese IT giants to step up foreign expansion and hire the best specialists from foreign competitors, the scholar said, adding that a high-profile scientist could be offered no less than a million dollars a year in China.

    These measures have allowed China to make a giant technological leap, Li said. China has already become a leader in the number of patent applications and scientific works in the field of AI, outpacing the US. He opined, however, that there is a room for cooperation for the US and China.

    "Actually, in high-tech sphere, China and the United States can complement each other and cooperate. The US is strong in basic research, and China is strong in the development of applied research. Therefore, there is a great potential for cooperation. China quickly gets where it is better to apply the technology, and how to monetise it. These funds can then be invested in basic research", Li opined, bemoaning the fact that the US-Sino trade war could ruin these bright prospects.

    The scholar foresees that in the future China and the US can become the world's largest hi-tech players with the biggest number of unicorn companies.

    "One needs to understand that the US is still very strong when it comes to fundamental science," Li admitted. "Therefore, it is better for us not to be at cold war, but, on the contrary, to develop cooperation for the benefit of both countries".

    US, Chinese Hi-Tech Firms Bolstering Cooperation Amid Trump Crackdown

    It was reported in mid-March that Facebook AI Infrastructure director Jia Yangqing left the company to assume the position of vice president of Alibaba DAMO Academy, an Alibaba research affiliate in Silicon Valley. Jia joined Facebook in 2016 and led teams of AI researchers there. He is also known for creating Caffe, an open-source deep-learning framework.

    For his part, Andrew Ng, a Chinese English computer scientist, left Google Brain and joined Baidu, a Chinese multinational technology company specialising in Internet-related services and artificial intelligence, in 2014. In 2017 he resigned to found his own start-up.

    In 2009, AI specialist Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, who once worked for Google China, founded his venture capital firm Sinovation Ventures with presence in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Seattle and Silicon Valley. According to the firm's official website, it "currently manage[s] an estimated $2B AUM between six USD and RMB funds in total, and over 300 portfolio companies across the technology spectrum in China and the US".

    According to LinkedIn, there are about 1.9 million AI specialists in the world with 850,000 of them working in the United States and only 50,000 in China. Up to 2,500 companies in the world are engaged in research, development and practical use of AI. Currently, US giants occupy the lion's share of the market, outpacing China in the field of AI research and development, as the Tencent Research Center notes.

    Although the Trump administration, along with the European Commission, has recently stepped up pressure on Chinese telecom giants, US and Chinese businesses are seeking ways to cooperate.

    Thus, Baidu is currently running three research laboratories in the United States. Another IT giant, Tencent, opened an AI research centre in Seattle in 2017. Foreign companies are also happy to open research laboratories in China. In 2017 Google created a research centre in Beijing. In 2018 Baidu and Intel announced that they were launching a new joint lab in China to make research in the sphere of AI and 5G. Meanwhile, Microsoft Research Asia (MSRA), the company's fundamental research arm in the Asia Pacific region, has been working in Beijing for more than 20 years.

    The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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