Youtu Lab inside Tencent to empower internet

By Chen Qingqing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/11 21:13:39

A Tencent mascot at the company's headquarters in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province Photo: Chen Qingqing/GT

Located in Shenzhen's high-technology park area in Nanshan district, scarf-wearing and winking penguin mascots stood outside of the headquarters of internet company Tencent Holdings, a pioneer contributing to China's internet revolution.

The company has been expanding so rapidly in the past few years that it had to rent some offices in nearby buildings for its staff. Starting from social network services like instant messaging, the company has gained footprints in more business sectors such as gaming, music, entertainment, financial services and others.

While the Chinese government is making a push in advancing artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in recent years, major internet companies BAT - Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent - have been embracing AI and setting up specialized labs to make technological breakthroughs.

Jia Jiaya, general manager of Youtu Lab -an AI research lab under Tencent - left the Chinese University of Hong Kong to join the Shenzhen-based internet company last year. Jia said the lab has two edges in AI research, as it has many staff who obtained PhD degrees from global schools around the world and there are many requests from different teams within the company.

"We have teams working on social networks, news, music and cloud," he told the Global Times. As result, many needs come out of those platforms, as the lab is trying to build on technologies based on visual information.

For instance, on the company's social network platforms - QQ and Pitu - Youtu Lab has come up with different ways of beautifying faces to attract more users and make this process natural and suitable for Asian women. 

In an office of Youtu Lab, young employees work in an open space and test products on their smartphones, which are all supported by Tencent apps. "Not only do we do research, we also have really practical goals to achieve," Jia said, noting that the lab puts its new results, especially algorithms and methods, into practical products to meet needs in both academia and industry.

Some Youtu Lab computer vision technologies have been implemented in other areas, for example to help police to find lost people. Also, they will be used in medical services and cultural heritage protection.

Tencent views this as an essential capability that benefits the company's business by enhancing its overall user experience, sharpening its targeting technology and empowering its ecosystem partners. It has accumulated more than 13 million partners like software and application developers, created 25 million jobs and paid 23 billion yuan ($3.7 billion) in dividends over the past six years, Lin Songtao, vice president of the company, told the company's seventh global partner conference last November.

Jia, who once worked with Microsoft Research Asia and Adobe Systems, had projects funded by internet giants such as Microsoft and Qualcomm. "China is catching up quickly [in AI]," he said, noting that many experts in China have devoted themselves to AI and interest in technology is growing quickly.


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