Google is deepening its push into artificial intelligence (AI) by opening a research centre in China, even though its search services remain blocked in the country. Google said the facility would be the first its kind in Asia and would aim to employ local talent. Silicon Valley is focusing heavily on the future applications for AI. China has also indicated strong support for AI development and for catching up with the US.Research into artificial intelligence has the potential to improve a range of technologies, from self-driving cars and automated factories to translation products and facial recognition software. In a blog post on the company’s website, Google said the new research centre was an important part of its mission as an “AI first company”. “Whether a breakthrough occurs in Silicon Valley, Beijing or anywhere else, [AI] has the potential to make everyone’s life better for the entire world,” said Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist at Google Cloud AI and Machine Learning. The research centre, which joins similar facilities in London, New York, Toronto and Zurich, will be run by a small team from its existing office in Beijing. Strict rulesThe tech giant operates two offices in China, with roughly half of its 600 employees working on global products, company spokesperson Taj Meadows told the AFP news agency.But Google’s search engine and a number of other services are banned in China. The country has imposed increasingly strict rules on foreign companies over the past year, including new censorship restrictions.China has for many years censored content it sees as politically sensitive, using an increasingly sophisticated set of filters that critics have called the “great firewall”.At the same time, China has been expanding its push into artificial intelligence. Last week, the country’s President, Xi Jinping, urged senior officials at a key Communist Party meeting to “accelerate implementation of big data”.In July, China announced its national plan for AI, calling for the country to catch up with the US.But its advances in this area have sparked concerns. Human rights groups are among those troubled by China’s use of artificial intelligence to monitor its own citizens.Addressing the meeting of Communist Party officials late last week, President Xi reportedly emphasised “the necessity of using big data to improve governance”.