Thursday, April 25

Chinese national accused of stealing AI secrets from Google

A Chinese citizen who recently quit his job as a software engineer at Google in California was accused of trying to transfer artificial intelligence technology to a Beijing-based company that secretly paid him, according to a court filing. federal indictment unveiled Wednesday.

Prosecutors accused Linwei Ding, who was part of the team that designs and manages Google’s vast AI supercomputer data system, stole information about the system’s “architecture and functionality” and stole software used to ” orchestrate “state-of-the-art” supercomputers. machine learning and AI technology.

From May 2022 to May 2023, Mr. Ding, also known as Leon, uploaded 500 files, many of which contained trade secrets, from his Google-provided laptop to the cloud using a multi-step system that allowed “to evade immediate detection,” according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California.

Mr. Ding was arrested Wednesday morning at his home in Newark, California, not far from Google’s sprawling main campus in Mountain View, officials said.

Starting in June 2022, Mr. Ding received $14,800 a month — plus a bonus and company stock — from a China-based technology company, without informing his superiors at Google, according to the filing. ‘charge. He is also accused of working with another company in China.

Mr. Ding openly sought funding for a new AI startup he had formed at an investor conference in Beijing in November, boasting that “we have experience with the power platform calculation of 10,000 Google maps; we just need to replicate it and improve it,” prosecutors said in the indictment, which was unsealed in San Francisco federal court.

“The Department of Justice will not tolerate the theft of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies that could put our national security at risk,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, who announced the indictment during an appearance at an American Bar Association conference in San Francisco. Wednesday afternoon.

These accusations underscore the high stakes in the fight for primacy in artificial intelligence. While American companies have developed most of the advances in generative AI, China has managed to achieve this. a strategic priority to lead the growing field.

Tech industry experts estimate that China is at least a year behind the United States, but many Chinese startups have leveraged American technology to try to keep pace, particularly the large language model open source from Meta, called Llama. Generative AI, the origin of ChatGPT and the wave of conversational chatbots, has quickly become one of the most coveted technologies in the world.

In seconds, these types of tools can generate compelling text and images that could be used to increase productivity, create misinformation, or provide entertainment. audio and video capabilities aren’t far behind. Google has developed some of the fundamental advances that make these systems work. The company said its latest group of AI models, named Gemini, were among the most powerful available today.

But since ChatGPT’s debut, Google has lost its market leader status and its woes have attracted attention. The company has been widely criticized for racial bias in its image generator, leading it to suspend users’ ability to create images of people.

Accusations of intellectual property theft have been a major sticking point in U.S.-China relations for years. A Chinese national was arrested in 2015 for sell part of IBM’s source code at festivals in China. In 2018, a former Apple employee was apprehended while trying to board a flight to Beijing. with the company’s trade secrets regarding autonomous driving.

The same year, the Chinese company Sinovel Wind Group was convicted of stealing wind turbine technology from a Massachusetts-based company, AMSC, which suffered more than $800 million in losses.

In October, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said intellectual property theft in China posed a danger to the United States economy and national security, describing it as the “defining threat of this generation.”

José Castañeda, a Google spokesperson, said in a statement: “We have strict safeguards to prevent the theft of our confidential business information and trade secrets. After investigation, we found that this employee had stolen numerous documents and we quickly brought the matter to law enforcement. “We are grateful to the FBI for helping to protect our information and will continue to cooperate closely with them.”

The indictment suggests Mr. Ding received help, saying another Google employee swiped Mr. Ding’s ID card into a company office to help him conceal a trip to China.

Google, calling Mr. Ding a “junior employee,” initially said he had acted alone, but later said that did not appear to be the case. She maintained that her security systems worked as designed.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Ding had legal representation.

The government has given few details about the life of Mr Ding, who started working for Google in early 2019 and resigned abruptly in January – after booking a one-way ticket to Beijing.

Mr. Ding listed a degree from the Dalian Institute of Technology in China in 2010, as well as degrees from the University of Southern California and Stanford, on a LinkedIn page that matches his name and job details. job at Google.

The page lists stints at software semiconductor and healthcare companies over the past decade, as well as awards he said he won at Google, including the “Perfy Award and Feats of Engineering.”

Kitty Bennett reports contributed.