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Chinese internet giant Tencent opens artificial intelligence lab in Seattle

Chinese tech titan Tencent has announced that it’s opening a new artificial intelligence (AI) lab in Seattle, with speech recognition expert Dr. Yu Dong, formerly a principal researcher at Microsoft’s Speech and Dialog Group, leading the initiative.

The new lab, which was first rumored last month, will focus on both “fundamental research and practical application of artificial intelligence,” according to a statement issued by the company, and will push to develop AI’s “understanding, decision-making and creativity,” while supporting Tencent’s AI efforts across its range of businesses, which include gaming and social media.

Tencent first launched an AI lab in Shenzhen, China last April, with a focus on machine learning, computer vision, speech recognition, and natural language processing (NLP). According to the company, a number of its products already use technology created in the lab — including its wildly popular WeChat messaging app. The Seattle AI hub will focus more on speech recognition and NLP.

“We hope that AI Lab will become more than a laboratory, but a connector,” explained Tencent’s Dr. Zhang Tong, who will serve as the lab’s executive director. “By bringing together the world’s leading experts in the field, we hope to further drive fundamental research on AI to expand its influence and enhance its practicality.”

The decision to open a hub in Seattle positions Tencent to hire top engineers and AI professionals in one of the country’s top tech hubs outside of Silicon Valley. Indeed, it’s a move echoed by other Chinese tech juggernauts, such as Alibaba, which has had a secretive base in Seattle since 2014, though it recently upped sticks and moved to nearby Bellevue. Elsewhere, Baidu, the “Google of China,” opened a new Silicon Valley arm last year dedicated to self-driving cars, while ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing opened a new AI hub in Mountain View back in March.

“With the establishment of the AI Lab in Seattle, I believe that there will be more top talent joining AI Lab to help further promote AI development around the world,” added Dr. Yu.

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