ByteDance’s AI Head Wei-Ying Ma Leaves Company for Tsinghua Amid US Crisis

With ByteDance’s international expansion plan stalled, Wei-Ying Ma, Vice President of ByteDance and Director of its Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is leaving to join Advanced Industry Research (AIR), a research institute under Tsinghua University. An initiative led by world-renowned scientist and entrepreneur Dr. Ya-Qin Zhang, AIR aims to be a center focusing on scientific research and technological innovation for the fourth industrial revolution, such as autonomous driving, AI+IoT, and neuromorphic computing.

According to sources familiar with the matter, Ma is to act in capacity of the co-founder of AIR, together with Zhang and Zhao Feng, former CTO of Chinese electric home appliance giant Haier. Ma, Zhang and Zhao are all alumni of MSRA, Microsoft’s fundamental research arm in the Asia Pacific region.

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ByteDance says that while Ma chose to shift his focus to education and research, he will still serve as a senior technology consultant for the company.

Ma joined ByteDance in February 2017. Before that, he got his Ph.D at the University of California, Santa Barbara and joined HP Lab in Silicon Valley under the leadership of Dr. Zhang Hongjiang, who later became Managing Director of Microsoft Advanced Technology Center and CTO of Microsoft China Research and Development Group. Ma joined Zhang Hongjiang and Kai-Fu Lee when they founded Microsoft Research Asia (MSRA), and mainly studied internet search technology and mobile information browsing during the 17 years he spent at MSRA.

As Microsoft’s fundamental research arm in the Asia Pacific region, MSRA is a cradle for various key players in China’s AI industry including former Google China President Kai-Fu Lee, founder of Alibaba Cloud Wang Jian, co-founder and President of Xiaomi Lin Bin, and Lenovo’s CTO Yong Rui.