Tencent appoints global AI expert to head new Seattle lab

Yu Dong is former principal researcher of speech and dialog at Microsoft, and the holder of 60 patents

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 8:51pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 9:03pm

Tencent Holdings, which operates China’s largest social networking empire, is opening a new artificial intelligence (AI) lab in Seattle, in its latest effort to jockey for position in what’s expected to become the next fronter in internet technology.

The facility is Tencent’s first AI research site outside of China after the launch of its core AI Lab at its headquarterers in Shenzhen in April last year.

The Seattle lab will be run by global speech recognition expert Yu Dong, who is expected to “drive research on speech recognition and natural language processing”, at the site, the company said.

Yu was previously principal researcher of speech and dialog at Microsoft, an adjunct professor at Zhejiang University, the holder of 60 patents, and one of the founders and leading authors of CNTK, an open source deep learning toolkit.

His appointment is Tencent’s second high-profile AI hiring in two months after employing Zhang Tong, an expert in big data and the former head of Baidu Inc’s big data lab, to be the executive director of its main AI Lab in Shenzhen.

Tencent names Zhang Tong head of its artificial intelligence lab

By opening an AI lab in Seattle, Tencent joins Chinese internet heavyweights, including Baidu and car-hailer Didi Chuxing, in the quest to lure the US’s best AI talent.

Both Baidu and Didi set up their new research facilities in Silicon Valley earlier this year, in clear moves to challenge their Western counterparts as worldwide AI leaders.

Chinese firms fight to lure top artificial intelligence talent from Silicon Valley

“With the creation of the AI Lab in Seattle, there will be more top talent joining [us] to help further promote AI development around the world,” said Yu Dong, without elaborating further on how many potential jobs could be on offer there.

Established in April 2016, Tencent’s AI Lab in Shenzhen employs around 50 AI scientists and over 200 engineers.

“We hope the AI labs can become more than just laboratories, but connectors,” said Zhang Tong.

“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.”