Microsoft’s delicate position in China

For several years, Microsoft has been striving to build a strong artificial intelligence ecosystem in China. This race for AI reinforces the fear that the United States will lose its dominance on the world stage, and puts Microsoft in a delicate position.

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For the past two decades, Microsoft has been instrumental in helping China become the AI ​​powerhouse it is today. Today, the very idea of ​​an American company partnering with technology projects in China catches the attention of U.S. lawmakers. According to a survey conducted by ProtocolMicrosoft may be forced to make tough decisions about the AI ​​ecosystem it has encouraged to develop in this country.

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The establishment of Microsoft’s first artificial intelligence laboratory dates back to 1998. It was in Beijing, and at the time, the company was clearly paving the way for new commercial collaborations between the United States and China. A time when President Bill Clinton was pushing for closer trade ties with the country, and when AI was mostly a sci-fi pipe dream. Today, Microsoft Research Asia, (or MSRA), is known as one of the most influential AI research centers in the world.

6,000 Chinese engineers work for MRSA

Microsoft Research Asia, for example, has advanced speech recognition, natural language and image processing, and other critical work. Some MSRA employees then took part to the creation and growth of other Chinese technology companies. This is the case for Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent.

Baidu CTO Jingdong Wang has joined the company after 14 years at Microsoft in China. Wei-Ying Ma, now a professor at Tsinghua University, became vice president of ByteDance’s AI lab after serving as deputy general manager at MSRA, where he oversaw research groups focused on machine learning. and natural language computing.

Perhaps MSRA’s biggest star is Kai-Fu Lee. He led Google in China in 2005. Today, he is one of the leading investors in AI companies in China and an evangelist of AI advancements in the country. According to Paul Triolo, VP in charge of China at Albright Stonebridge Group, “ it can be said that Microsoft Research Asia was the seed capital from which many Chinese companies and researchers in AI and the industry really grew “.

In 2022, 6,000 scientists and engineers work for Microsoft in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Suzhou, as well as in Taiwan and Japan. Today, Microsoft’s position in China is no longer viewed favorably by the US government. However, ties with local government and Chinese universities are strong and cannot be undone so easily.

What does the United States say?

U.S. national security and intelligence authorities often cite the risk of intellectual property theft among the main concerns driving the US’s focus on Chinese AI. The American giant nevertheless seems to be following the directives of its country.

Indeed, when Chinese DJI was blacklisted, Microsoft ended its partnership with the company. It was also said that Microsoft had stopped recruiting at some Chinese universities.

Given the influence and position of the American giant in China, it is possible that the American government will put pressure on Microsoft to end certain partnerships or that the company not pursuing certain types of AI research.

Microsoft may have to move AI researchers from China to Redmond, in order to train some sort of “ away team “. This would inevitably have negative consequences on Microsoft’s influence in China.

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