Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Google to Expand London Campus Despite Brexit Questions

  • New building will bring site’s capacity to 7,000 workers
  • Government sees vote of confidence in post-Brexit future

Google is going ahead with delayed plans to expand its London offices, saying it will build a 10-story building on the site in a move that the U.K. government called a vote of confidence in the country’s post-Brexit future.

The company, the largest unit of Alphabet Inc., said it would be able to house as many as 7,000 workers at the London campus after the expansion -- 3,000 more than a spokesman said it currently employs in the U.K. Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai described the plan as a sign of the company’s commitment to the country.

“Here in the U.K., it’s clear to me that computer science has a great future with the talent, educational institutions, and passion for innovation we see all around us,” he said in a statement.

Speaking at an event that included London’s mayor Sadiq Khan and prominent entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, Pichai was optimistic about the U.K.’s future in technology despite the June vote to leave the European Union, and he said Google was committed to remaining in the country for years.

Multinational corporations have been grasping for details on the country’s plans for leaving the EU. Tech companies wonder whether they’ll still be able to hire workers from overseas and gain access to the single market after the country leaves the bloc.

“Our technology industry is central to securing future economic growth and this government is committed to ensuring it continues to thrive,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said in a separate statement.‎ “It’s further proof that Britain is open for business and that we continue to be an outward looking, world-leading nation.”

Corporate Citizen

Google has been under pressure in the U.K. following criticism it doesn’t pay its fair share of tax, so the company is eager to show it is a good corporate citizen. Earlier on Tuesday, it offered every British resident five free hours of digital skills training and said it will bring virtual reality field trips to one million U.K. students.

Google, based in Mountain View, California, didn’t specify how many more workers it expects to hire in the U.K. Plans for the new building, designed by Heatherwick Studio and Bjarke Ingels Group, have been in the works for several years.

Pichai said it was appropriate that the company had chosen Kings Cross for the new headquarters as the area "symbolizes the confluence of people, ideas, transport and openness in a very unique way."

Asked about Google’s tense relations with European competition authorities, who have launched multiple investigations of the company, Pichai said he had "good conversations" with European Union officials and that the company "should be judged on our actions." He noted that Google’s Android operating system, which is at the center of one of the antitrust investigations, was the world’s most open operating system and had enabled more people to have smartphones at affordable prices.

Pichai also unveiled product enhancements. Google Translate is now using new artificial intelligence software that learns to improve translations of eight new language pairs including Portuguese, Turkish and Japanese. Google had previously debuted the technology for English and Chinese.

The CEO also launched an experimental project that uses machine learning to map art objects in a three-dimensional landscape based on how visually-similar they are.

In response to questions about the U.S. election, Pichai said "we face challenging times" but added that Google was committed to doing more to combat economic and digital inequality.

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