Flags of China and the United States can be seen near a ByteDance logo in this illustration photo taken on September 18, 2020.
Florence Lo | Reuters
The battle between the US and China for supremacy in artificial intelligence is making national lawmakers increasingly concerned about what losses could mean to national security, the economy and American prosperity.
But as the world’s two largest economies pour resources into the field in the race for dominance, cooperation is also on the way. Some AI experts even say that cross-border collaboration is the key to getting the most out of computer science advancements.
Engineers from Microsoft and China’s ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, are doing their part to further that idea. Through a project called KubeRay, they are collaborating on software intended to help companies run AI apps more efficiently.
At this week’s Ray Summit in San Francisco, ByteDance software engineer Jiaxin Shan and Microsoft chief software engineer Ali Kanso discussed their progress with data scientists, machine learning experts, and other developers interested in building large applications using open data. source software called Ray.
Shan and Kanso explained the technicalities behind KubeRay, calling the software useful in powering AI apps that run on multiple computers, or distributed computing.
“Jiaxin and I have been working on an open source project for about a year and this is the beauty of a community gathering like this,” said Kanso, who has a Ph.D. in computer science. “We’re not in the same company, but we see each other every week, we work together every week.”
Shan, who previously worked as a software engineer at Amazon Web Services, is based in the Seattle area, near Microsoft’s headquarters, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Companies often collaborate and share technical resources to contribute to open source projects, which have gained popularity in recent years and spawned countless startups. The Microsoft-ByteDance partnership is notable for growing rivalry between the US and China over AI and intellectual property, and concerns about how technological advancements can be used for surveillance and privacy invasion.
Microsoft has invested heavily in AI, along with competitors such as Amazon, parent Google Alphabet, Facebook parent Meta, and Apple. Like Google once did, Microsoft maintains an AI research lab in China, allowing it to tap into the country’s academic talent.
Meanwhile, while TikTok use has exploded in recent years, ByteDance has dived into several AI open source projects. For example, in 2020, ByteDance debuted its NeurST software toolkit for AI-powered speech translation. And last year, the company debuted its CloudWeGo open source enterprise software.
The Ray Summit was hosted by software startup Anyscale, whose technology is built on Ray. Anyscale, which also contributed to KubeRay, was co-founded in 2019 by a group of engineers, including Ion Stoica, a professor of computer science at the University of California at Berkeley. Stoica has a long history in open source software and co-founded Databricks, a data analytics company valued at $38 billion in a funding round last year.
Databricks was built on top of Apache Spark, which was developed under the direction of Stoica at Berkeley. Anyscale is trying to follow a similar path, saying this week it just raised another $99 million.
Tech giants like Microsoft and Meta often use open source projects as a way to spread their own internal technology ideas to the wider community. This helps entice potential recruits and serves as a way to market the companies as technology leaders to developers.
The Microsoft-ByteDance relationship has some history. In 2020, Microsoft attempted to acquire TikTok from ByteDance at a time when then-President Donald Trump threatened to ban the social media app for unspecified security reasons. A year later, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called the failed deal “the strangest thing” he’s ever worked on.
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