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Top AI Experts Depart ByteDance and Kuaishou for New Opportunities Amid China’s Unicorn Boom

ByYasmeeta Oon

May 28, 2024
Top AI Experts Depart ByteDance and Kuaishou for New Opportunities Amid China's Unicorn Boom

Top AI Experts Depart ByteDance and Kuaishou for New Opportunities Amid China’s Unicorn Boom

Recently, China’s tech industry has witnessed a significant shift as key artificial intelligence (AI) experts from major firms like ByteDance and Kuaishou Technology are leaving to start their own ventures. This trend underscores a burgeoning interest among investors in backing start-ups that could potentially become the next major players in the AI domain, akin to the global impact of OpenAI, known for its development of ChatGPT.

Chinese media sources including 36Kr have reported that Yang Hongxia, a prominent figure in the development of large language models (LLMs) at ByteDance, has left the company to pursue her own AI initiatives. Yang’s contributions to ByteDance were significant, having led the development of the AI Lab and its foundational LLM technologies, which power generative AI services similar to ChatGPT.

Similarly, Fu Ruiji, who was at the helm of Kuaishou’s Knowledge Graph and LLM projects, has also exited the company to invest his expertise in a new AI start-up. While specific details about their new ventures remain limited, these departures mark a notable trend in the migration of talent within China’s tech sector.

These shifts are part of a larger movement within the Chinese tech landscape, which is currently experiencing a surge in start-ups achieving “unicorn” status — valued at over US$1 billion. Recent entrants into this exclusive club include:

  • Baichuan
  • Zhipu AI
  • Moonshot AI
  • MiniMax

These companies have drawn substantial investment and attention, signaling a robust growth in the sector.

Career Trajectories of Departing AI Leaders

  • Yang Hongxia:
    • Formerly: Head of AI Lab at ByteDance, Team Manager at Alibaba Group for M6 AI model
    • Current Focus: Launching new AI venture, specifics undisclosed
  • Fu Ruiji:
    • Formerly: Vice Director at iFlytek’s AI research arm, Lead of Knowledge Graph and LLM projects at Kuaishou
    • Current Focus: Developing his own AI start-up, details yet to be revealed

The migration of AI talent is not limited to ByteDance and Kuaishou. The broader tech industry is experiencing similar trends, with AI experts leaving established companies to start their own ventures. For instance, Wang Changhu, former leader of ByteDance’s vision technology unit, founded AIsphere in 2023 and secured substantial funding in March.

Alibaba has also seen several high-profile departures. Jia Yangqing, former head of the computing platform department at Alibaba’s cloud unit, left early in 2023 to join an AI infrastructure start-up.

In response to this talent drain, China’s major tech firms are aggressively competing to attract and retain top AI talent. Companies such as Baidu, Huawei Technologies, and Alibaba are offering competitive salaries and attractive benefits to draw experts in AI development. For example, last November, Pinduoduo, a leading budget shopping platform, increased its job postings, offering salaries up to 60,000 yuan (approximately US$8,282) monthly for roles like LLM developers and engineers at its Shanghai headquarters.

This exodus from established tech giants to emerging start-ups is reshaping the competitive landscape of China’s AI industry. As companies both new and old vie for the leading minds in the field, the sector is poised for rapid innovation and expansion.

AI Expert Movements and Their New Ventures

NamePrevious CompanyNew VentureFocus Area
Yang HongxiaByteDanceUndisclosedAI Development
Fu RuijiKuaishouUndisclosedAI Development
Wang ChanghuByteDanceAIsphereAI Technology Solutions
Jia YangqingAlibabaAI Start-UpAI Infrastructure

This talent shift indicates a dynamic and evolving AI industry in China, characterized by the continuous flow of ideas and the birth of new technologies. As these new enterprises grow, they may well challenge the existing tech giants, fostering a vibrant ecosystem of innovation.


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Featured Image courtesy of The Japan Times

Yasmeeta Oon

Just a girl trying to break into the world of journalism, constantly on the hunt for the next big story to share.

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