Microsoft and Tiktok parent ByteDance collaborate on AI project KubeRay

The flags of China and the United States are seen near a Byte Dance logo in this illustration photo taken September 18, 2020.

Florence Lo | Reuters

The high-stakes battle between the United States and China for artificial intelligence supremacy has national lawmakers increasingly worried about what losing could mean for national security, the economy and American prosperity.

But as the world’s two largest economies invest resources in the race for dominance in the field, there is also ongoing collaboration. Indeed, some AI experts even say that cross-border cooperation is essential to make the most of advances in computing.

Engineers from Microsoft and China’s ByteDance, the parent of TikTok, are doing their part to push this notion forward. In a project called KubeRay, they’re working together on software to help companies run AI applications more efficiently.

At Top of radius This week in San Francisco, ByteDance Software Engineer Jiaxin Shan and Microsoft Principal Software Engineer Ali Kanso discussed their progress with data scientists, machine learning experts, and other developers interested in creating great apps using open source software called Ray.

Shan and Kanso explained the technical details behind KubeRay and introduced the software as useful for powering AI applications that run on multiple computers or distributed computing.

“Jiaxin and I have been working on an open source project for about a year and that’s the beauty of a community gathering like this,” said Kanso, who holds a Ph.D. in computer science. “We are not in the same company, but we meet every week, we collaborate every week.”


Shan, who previously worked as a software engineer at Amazon Web Services, is based in the Seattle area near Microsoft headquarters, according to his LinkedIn Profile.

Companies often team up and share engineering resources to contribute to open source projects, which have grown in popularity in recent years and spawned many startups. The Microsoft-ByteDance collaboration is notable because of the budding rivalry between the United States and China over AI and intellectual propertyand concerns about how advances in technology could be used to surveillance and invasion of privacy.

Microsoft has invested heavily in AI with competitors like Amazonparent google Alphabetfacebook parent Meta and Apple. Like Google did onceMicrosoft maintains AI research laboratory in China, helping it tap into the country’s academic talent.

Meanwhile, as TikTok usage has skyrocketed in recent years, ByteDance has immersed itself in various open-source AI projects. In 2020, for example, ByteDance made its debut its NeurST software toolkit for AI-based speech translation. And last year, the company launched its open-source enterprise software CloudWeGo.

The Ray Summit was organized by software startup Anyscale, whose technology is based on Ray. Anyscale, which also contributed to KubeRay, was co-founded in 2019 by a group of engineers that included Stoic Ion, professor of computer science at the University of California at Berkeley. Stoica has a long history in open source software and co-founded Databricks, a data analytics company that was valued at $38 billion in a fundraising round last year.

Databricks was built on top of Apache Spark, which was developed in Berkeley under the leadership of Stoica. Anyscale is trying to follow a similar path and said this week that it was right raised $99 million.

Tech giants like Microsoft and Meta often use open source projects as a way to spread their own internal technology ideas to the wider community. This helps attract potential recruits and serves as a way to market companies as technology leaders to developers.

The Microsoft-ByteDance relationship has some history. In 2020, Microsoft sought to to acquire ByteDance’s TikTok at a time when then-President Donald Trump threatened to ban the social media app over unspecified security concerns. A year later, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called the botched case “the weirdest thing” he’s ever worked on.


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