Linwei Ding, a former software engineer at Google, has been charged by the Justice Department with stealing artificial intelligence (AI) technology from the tech giant while secretly collaborating with two Chinese companies, as per an AP report on March 6.

Ding, 38, a Chinese national, was apprehended in Newark, California, and faces four counts of federal trade secret theft. Each count carries a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

The charges were disclosed by Attorney General Merrick Garland during an American Bar Association Conference in San Francisco. Law enforcement leaders, including Garland, have consistently highlighted the threat of Chinese economic espionage and national security concerns linked to AI advancements.

Indictment Details

The unsealed indictment in the Northern District of California alleges that Ding, employed by Google since 2019, uploaded hundreds of files into a personal Google Cloud account two years ago. He had access to confidential information about Google’s supercomputing data centres.

Shortly after the theft commenced, Ding was offered the role of chief technology officer at a Chinese technology company focused on AI. He also founded and served as CEO of a China-based startup aiming to train “large AI models powered by supercomputing chips.” Ding allegedly participated in investor meetings and sought capital for both ventures without revealing his affiliations to Google.

Google officials discovered Ding’s activities when he presented as CEO of one of the Chinese companies at an investor conference in Beijing three days after resigning from Google on December 26. Surveillance footage revealed that another employee had scanned Ding’s access badge to create a false appearance of him being at the Google building during times when he was actually in China.

As of now, it is unclear whether Ding, 38, has legal representation.

Concerns over AI Technologies Misuse

Justice Department leaders have recently expressed concerns about foreign adversaries leveraging AI technologies to harm the United States. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco highlighted the administration’s focus on AI enforcement through the Disruptive Technology Strike Force. FBI Director Christopher Wray also underscored the increased vulnerability to interference in the American political process due to AI and other emerging technologies.

Wray emphasised the severity of the situation, stating, “Today’s charges are the latest illustration of the lengths affiliates of companies based in the People’s Republic of China are willing to go to steal American innovation.” He warned that such theft could lead to job losses and have detrimental economic and national security repercussions.

(With inputs from AP, PTI)

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Published: 07 Mar 2024, 07:26 AM IST

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