Microsoft Pulls AI Developers From China To Relocate To Canada

Microsoft has begun moving many of its best R&D employees out of China to Canada. The company is reacting to the increasing tensions between China and the West, but at the same time wants to protect its technological secrets.

As the Financial Times reports, Microsoft has applied for emigration visas to Canada for a surprisingly large number of employees at its Beijing-based key research site. The Microsoft Research Asia (MSRA) department was founded a few years ago to recruit talents from China and surrounding countries, who mainly conduct research around AI topics.

Microsoft denies ‘Vancouver plan’

Microsoft is now reportedly aiming to relocate MSRA’s best employees from Beijing to the Canadian west coast metropolis of Vancouver. The so-called “Vancouver Plan” is said to initially affect around 20 to 40 employees, although they are explicitly not to be relocated to the USA, but to Canada.

Microsoft denied the existence of a so-called “Vancouver plan” and also stated that the figures quoted by the Financial Times were inaccurate. Instead, a new AI laboratory is being set up in Vancouver, which is to cooperate with developers from other areas who are already based there. In the future, the employees of the new “laboratory” would include people from a wide variety of regions, including China.

According to the FT report, internal concerns are primarily about possible harassment by the Chinese authorities. Microsoft also fears that particularly experienced and successful employees in the field of AI development will migrate to Chinese companies, i.e. a “brain drain” to its disadvantage.

Microsoft Research Asia was recently an important location for the training of Chinese developers. Various leading AI developers from Chinese companies previously worked for Microsoft’s local research department. However, Microsoft’s AI development arm in China has also been criticized after it was revealed it was working with a Chinese military university on AI technologies that could be used for surveillance and censorship.

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