Wednesday, May 8, 2024

A Chinese citizen recently resigned from his position as a software engineer at Google in California and has been charged with attempting to transfer artificial intelligence technology to a Beijing-based company that paid him in secret, according to a federal indictment unsealed on Wednesday.

The indictment accuses Linwei Ding, also known as Leon, who was part of the team responsible for designing and maintaining Google’s extensive A.I. supercomputer data system, of stealing information on the system’s architecture and functionality. He is also accused of taking software used to orchestrate cutting-edge supercomputers in machine learning and A.I. technology.

From May 2022 to May 2023, Mr. Ding uploaded 500 files, many containing trade secrets, from his Google-issued laptop to the cloud using a multi-step scheme to evade immediate detection, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of California.

Mr. Ding was arrested at his home in Newark, Calif., near Google’s main campus in Mountain View on Wednesday morning, officials said.

Starting in June 2022, Mr. Ding received $14,800 per month plus bonuses and company stock from a China-based technology company without disclosing this to his supervisors at Google, according to the indictment. He is also alleged to have collaborated with another company in China.

Mr. Ding openly sought funding for a new A.I. start-up company he had founded at an investor conference in Beijing in November, boasting about their experience with Google’s computational power platform, prosecutors said.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland stated that the Justice Department will not tolerate the theft of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies that could jeopardize national security.

The charges highlight the competitive nature of the race for superiority in artificial intelligence, with the U.S. leading in generative A.I. advancements while China aims to lead the field.

Tech industry experts estimate that China trails the U.S. by about a year, but many Chinese start-ups are leveraging American technology, particularly Meta’s open-source large language model, to keep pace.

Within seconds, tools like these can generate convincing text and images to boost productivity, spread misinformation, or offer entertainment. Google’s foundational contributions have been essential in making these systems work effectively.

Accusations of intellectual property theft have long been a contentious issue impacting U.S.-China relations, with notable cases involving IBM, Apple, and other companies.

In October, F.B.I. director Christopher A. Wray highlighted the threat of intellectual property theft from China to the U.S. economic and national security.

Google spokesperson José Castañeda emphasized the company’s strict measures to prevent theft of confidential information and trade secrets, expressing gratitude to the F.B.I. for their assistance in protecting their data.

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