Microsoft to Move Top AI Experts from China to New Lab in Canada Anushree Shinde
Microsoft is moving its top artificial intelligence (AI) researchers from China to Canada, posing a potential threat to China's tech talent development. Microsoft Research Asia (MSRA), headquartered in Beijing, is currently in the process of obtaining visas to relocate its leading AI experts to its Vancouver institute. This strategic move, referred to as the "Vancouver Plan," is a response to the escalating political tensions between the United States and China. It also serves as a defensive measure aimed at safeguarding valuable talent from being poached by Chinese tech companies seeking to develop their own versions of AI technologies, such as OpenAI's ChatGPT. The decision reflects concerns regarding talent retention, the risk of poaching, and potential employee harassment in China.
Despite receiving job offers from Chinese internet companies, Microsoft researchers in China have opted to apply for visas to relocate to Canada instead. This decision is based on the perceived risks associated with housing top AI researchers in China, particularly those involved in machine learning. The researchers have voiced concerns about the potential for talent poaching by Chinese companies and the risk of harassment by authorities. In an effort to foster collaboration with its Vancouver-based engineering teams, Microsoft plans to establish a new lab in Vancouver staffed by experts from various MSRA labs worldwide, including China.
The relocation of these prominent AI researchers may generate dissatisfaction in Beijing, as the city has been actively working to attract Chinese researchers abroad through grants and prestigious teaching positions. MSRA, founded by Taiwanese computer scientist Lee Kai-Fu, has played a vital role as a training center for Chinese tech talent and has made significant contributions to China's AI ecosystem.
Despite the challenges that led other Western tech giants to exit China, Microsoft has maintained a strong presence in the country for over three decades. The company has developed localized products like Office, Windows, and Bing. However, if tensions between Beijing and Washington continue to escalate, Microsoft may encounter obstacles since a substantial portion of its engineering talent in China contributes to global projects. It is possible that some of these talented engineers could be relocated from China in the future.
LinkedIn, a subsidiary of Microsoft, recently laid off employees in its China office and closed its InCareer job application site for Chinese users. The decision by MSRA to transfer researchers from China to Canada underscores the diminishing opportunities for collaboration between China and the US in high-tech research. Deteriorating relations between the two countries and increased scrutiny from Chinese officials regarding tech ambitions have limited the ability of Chinese researchers to collaborate with their counterparts in the West. The institute faced criticism from Washington for its collaboration with a Chinese military-run university on AI research with potential implications for surveillance and censorship. The field of AI has become increasingly sensitive, leading to a narrowing of the space for communication and collaboration between Chinese nationals and American institutions.
👍Anushree Shinde[ MBA]
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