Tencent steps up AI push with research lab in Seattle

Sijia Jiang

HONG KONG, May 2 (Reuters) - Chinese social media and gaming

giant Tencent Holdings said on Tuesday it will open an

artificial intelligence (AI) research facility in Seattle in the

United States, to be led by former Microsoft scientist Yu Dong.

Yu, who has been appointed as deputy head of Tencent's AI

Lab division, will run the new lab as well as spearhead research

in speech recognition and natural language understanding, the

company said.

Tencent, which owns the popular WeChat messenging app, is

Asia's most valuable company with a market capitalisation of

nearly $300 billion.

Shenzhen-headquartered Tencent is one of a number of Chinese

technology juggernauts that are stepping up efforts in AI

research. Tencent's WeChat has more than 889 million monthly

active users.

Tencent has more than 50 researchers and more than 200

engineers at its AI Lab in Shenzhen, which was established in

April 2016, according to the company.

China's "Big Three" tech firms - Tencent, Baidu Inc

and Alibaba - have been competing to attract top-notch

talent.

Yu, a speech recognition and deep learning expert, was the

principal researcher at Microsoft Research Institute's Speech

and Dialog Group before joining Tencent.

Baidu suffered a setback to its AI ambitions after its chief

scientist Andrew Ng resigned in March, shortly before Tencent

announced it has poached Baidu's former big data director Zhang

Tong to head up its AI Lab.

Yu is looking to build a team of around 20 for the Seattle

lab, according to Tencent.

(Reporting by Sijia Jiang; Editing by Richard Pullin)