Google Is Creeping Back Into China With an Investment in AI

Google has taken a minority stake in Mobvoi, a Chinese artificial intelligence (AI) startup, as it looks to take steps to get back into the world's second-largest economy.

The undisclosed investment was led by Google and brings Mobvoi's total investment to $75 million since being founded in 2012. Mobvoi has developed a Chinese language speech recognition and search app, a smartwatch operating system and a smartwatch called Ticwatch.

"Mobvoi is very excited to welcome Google as an investor as both companies share a long-term view on technologies and are dedicated to deliver an uncompromising user experience through emerging technologies", the start-up's founder Zhifei Li, said in a press release on Tuesday.

The funding will be used by the company to "enhance its core AI technologies" and develop new consumer products powered by the tech. Mobvoi also said it wants to explore products for cars and look into robotics.

Last month, Mobvoi partnered with Google to make it the voice search provider on Android Wear.

Google pulled its search service from China in 2010 after it said it was subject to cyber attacks from the country's government in a bid to censor content. Its Gmail service is also blocked, but Android is the dominant mobile OS in the country.

"There is an awful lot of this tech in China that Google is looking at and it wants to tap into as it rebuilds its presence there. This is a small part of that picture," Martin Garner, senior vice president at CCS Insight, told CNBC by phone.

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