Internet giant Tencent Holdings will build an artificial intelligence laboratory in Seattle. The plan is seen to knock out rival Amazon as the new facility will be led by former Microsoft scientist Yu Dong.
Yu is the deputy head of Tencent's AI Lab and will initiate research on speech recognition and natural language understanding, according to a statement released by Tencent.
The value of Tencent, which owns WeChat, is now at $300 billion. Active users of WeChat are now at 889 million.
Tencent confirmed that they have established an AI lab in their base in Shenzhen, which has more than 50 researchers and 200 engineers.
Tencent's hiring of Yu showed that it is leading the race against the other two big technology firms in China, Baidu and Alibaba.
Yu is a speech recognition and deep learning expert as well as the principal researcher of Microsoft Research Institute's Speech and Dialog Group.
Tencent's latest investment in AI is late compared to other technology companies like Baidu, Apple and Google.
The most successful AI technology application is with Amazon's Home Echo with 11 million users. However, the number of users of WeChat, which is more than 800 million, is predicted to outrank Amazon.
Dr. Andy Chun, a leading AI expert and associate professor at City University of Hong Kong, said, "WeChat is much more ingrained into the average Chinese citizen's daily life than Alibaba or Baidu. Amazon and Google do not have anything comparable."
WeChat is the best application to serve as a basis for developing artificial intelligence because by using its chat technology, it will be easier to teach machines on how to communicate with humans.
Tak Lo, a manager of artificial intelligence startup accelerator Zeroth.ai., said, "Conversational data is richer [than search or shopping data] because you have that many people on the platform performing that many interactions."
He added, "Shopping and search engine data show one type of data, which is purchasing or shopping intent, which is valuable, but different. For example, if you were to build out a Natural Language Understanding engine, you would not use search engine data, because no one searches based on complete conversational phrases."