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Hundreds of AI staff based in China are being offered relocation opportunities by Microsoft.

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A man walks past Microsoft’s local headquarters in Beijing on July 20, 2021.

Noel Celis | Afp | Getty Images

Microsoft has reportedly asked China-based cloud computing and artificial intelligence operations employees to consider relocating out of the country due to Washington’s crackdown on Beijing’s access to advanced technology. The Wall Street Journal broke the story, mentioning that the staff, mainly Chinese engineers, were provided with the opportunity to transfer to countries like the U.S., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. This move comes as the U.S. aims to prevent China from advancing in cutting-edge AI technology, which has potential military applications.

The potential relocation options were offered to around 700 to 800 individuals involved in machine learning and cloud computing work. Although the accuracy of this information could not be independently verified, a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed that the company had presented an internal transfer opportunity to a subset of employees. Microsoft employs approximately 7,000 engineers for its Asia-Pacific research-and-development group, with a significant portion of this workforce located in China, according to WSJ.

In response to these developments, the Biden administration is considering implementing stricter controls on the export of advanced AI models. Reports suggest that concerns are rising regarding the potential misuse of AI models by foreign entities, leading to a push for increased oversight. Microsoft, being a key player in the cloud computing and AI industry, faces scrutiny amid fears that AI models could be leveraged for malicious cyber activities.

Microsoft has been deeply entrenched in China for over 30 years, maintaining a significant presence despite regulatory challenges that led other Western tech firms to exit the market. China hosts Microsoft’s largest R&D center outside of the U.S., emphasizing the company’s commitment to the region. However, recent geopolitical tensions have prompted Microsoft to offer relocation opportunities to its China-based AI staff.

As the global landscape shifts in response to technological advancements and geopolitical considerations, companies like Microsoft navigate complex challenges to balance innovation with security and compliance. The evolving dynamics surrounding AI technology warrant continuous evaluation and adaptation, ensuring responsible utilization and mitigating potential risks associated with its proliferation.

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