ChinAI Newsletter #21: Google's AI-Powered Return to China?

Welcome to the ChinAI Newsletter!

These are Jeff Ding's weekly translations of writings on AI policy and strategy from Chinese thinkers. I'll also include general links to all things at the intersection of China and AI. Please share the subscription link if you think this stuff is cool. Here's an archive of all past issues. *Subscribers are welcome to share excerpts from these translations as long as my original translation is cited.

I'm a grad student at the University of Oxford where I'm the China lead for the Governance of AI Program, Future of Humanity Institute.

Google's AI-Powered Return to China? A story of talent, backbone tech, hardware, and one Massively Popular Wechat Applet

First things first, the Wechat Applet (猜画小歌 [Caihua Xiaoge]) that caught fire this past week in China (was all over my friend circle as well). This week's first translation is an article detailing how the app works (you draw objects in a way that Google's neural network can identify), why it caught fire (low threshold, down-to-earth spirit, social entertainment/competition value), and why it matters (first time most users in China have directly encountered Google's AI tech and could reflect Google's ambitions to "Return to China")

Second half of the first translation is more interesting: it claims that "If the popularity of Google's WeChat applet is only 'playing house (playing a children’s game),' then opening up an AI research institute in China is “starting a shooting war (doing something in earnest)."

This shows that Google's "Return" is taking place among many fronts not just limited to this massively popular applet:
- Talent: Google's AI lab will compete with Chinese companies for AI talent
- Hardware: While the AI lab got most of the hype, Google quietly also set up an office in Shenzhen which the author says shows Google's ambitions to compete in smart hardware for mobile
- Contained mobile services: mobile version of Google Translate, a software kit for augmented reality applications, and a Chinese version of the Files Go file management service for Android devices
- TensorFow (covered in this week's second translation)

Google’s Caihua Xiaoge Enters as a Wechat Applet, Reflecting Google AI’s Ambition to Enter China

Tensorflow and China: True Love or just a Hallucination

The second translation zooms in on another front of the Google return to China landscape: the open source frameworks and innovation platforms that support developers of machine learning, namely Google's Tensorflow which supports a variety of algorithms for deep learning. Key tidbits in the article

  • Tensorflow is relatively popular in China - 140,000 PyPI downloads (April 2017 figure), which based on my calculations can be extrapolated to over 1 million downloads; article talks about GDG Devfests that have been held in various Chinese cities introducing developers to Tensorflow; and, many companies (, ZTE, Xiaomi) all use Tensorflow

  • But the question is whether Tensorflow is indispensable: many domestic developers believe that TensorFlow is not the first choice for deep learning frameworks, companies could give priority to domestic services like Baidu's Paddle Paddle and Alibaba Cloud, and the Ministry of Science and Technology's announcement on November 15, 2017 of four national AI open innovation platforms could hamper TensorFlow's traction in China 

This time Google uses TensorFlow to return to China, what is it actually?

This Week's ChinAI Links

Two articles related to this week's translation theme:
1) Bloomberg's article on the spread of Google's Tensorflow
2) Quartz's article on Caihua Xiaoge also references how Wechat Applets may eventually compete with Google's play store

Roxanne Heston has put together an excellent resource sheet about long-term AI safety

Very good piece on China's techno-nationalism by Shazeda Ahmed and Steven Weber.

Thank you for reading and engaging.

Shout out to everyone who is commenting on the translations - idea is to build up a community of people interested in this stuff. You can contact me at or on Twitter at @jjding99