“The Internet is just an appetizer, whereas AI is the real entrée. The latter is not a part of the internet, not the second stage of the internet; it is technological revolution comparable to the industrial revolution.” – Robin Li, CEO of Baidu
In Q1 2017, Baidu’s competitors are alarmed by the company’s high-profile moves in the AI industry. The company is granted special permission this year from the Chinese government to lead the construction of National Engineering Laboratory of Deep Learning Technology. While Tencent and Alibaba are strong players with huge accessible user database, Baidu knows its lead position as the “orthodox” player: the search-engine company in strategic alliance with the government of China.
Robin Li, the company’s CEO, has planned the strategy pivot for a while. Baidu delved into deep learning research as early as 2012 and opened the Institute of Deep Learning (IDL) in the subsequent year. In 2016, after the Wei Zexi medical scandal which greatly damaged the the company’s SEM business and public reputation, Li redeployed his resources onto winning the preliminary battle of AI.
Q1 Company News: Executive Vice President at Microsoft Lu Qi joins Baidu as the Company’s New Executive and COO; Chief Scientist Andrew Ng Resigns from Baidu.
On January 17, Microsoft’s former global executive vice president Lu Qi joins Baidu as the company’s vice chairman and and COO. Baidu spokesperson says Qi will now collectively oversee Baidu’s operations in search engine, R & D, finance, autonomous vehicle, and artificial intelligence group (AIG), reporting directly to Robin Li.
Prior to joining Baidu, Qi obtained his bachelor and masters in computer science from Fudan University and his doctoral degree in the same field from Carnegie Mellon in 1996. He has then worked at IBM Almaden, Yahoo, and Microsoft. He participated in the development of Xiaoice, an advanced natural language chat-bot developed by Microsoft. Qi is praised by industry insider as being capable of amalgamating business with research.
Two months after on March 21, former chief scientist Andrew Ng resigns from Baidu. Industry insiders claim Baidu to be entering the end phase of research, where Ng’s academic focus no longer applies to the company’s new business scope. His exit signifies Baidu’s direction change on a managerial level. After Ng’s resignation, Baidu appoints Wang Haifeng as the supervisor of AIG, reporting directly to Lu. Click to read Ng’s public letter on resignation: Opening a new chapter of my work in AI.
Q1 Venture Capital: Synced Interviews Baidu Ventures’ CEO Liu Wei Detailing Baidu’s Investment Strategy in AI
Lenovo Comet Lab’s partner Liu Wei is appointed the CEO of Baidu Ventures (BV), alongside former senior technical director Qi Yujie and Goldman Sachs Asia executive director Cai Wei.
In an exclusive interview with Synced, Liu Wei details the investment direction of BV, which aims to make the strategic deployment arching over the entire AI ecosystem. “The investment strategy has a tripartite foci: vertical technology, AI platform, and industry ecosystem.”
1. Vertical Technology: some algorithm models are ready for business implementation, and the complementary demand for computation hardware and cyber security all have room for huge opportunities.
2. AI Platform: intelligent devices are the new platforms, ranging from autonomous vehicles and drones, AR/VR, audio systems, next-generation mobile devices, satellites, to medical devices an so on.
3. Industry: industries including security, agriculture, logistics, finance, medical, and education demand for more holistic investment approaches.
Q1 R & D: Baidu Leads the Construction of China’s National Engineering Laboratory of Deep Learning Technology in March; The Company Also Plans to Expand Its Research Facility in Silicon Valley.
The opening ceremony of China’s National Engineering Laboratory of Deep Learning Technology is held on Baidu Campus in March. The company will lead the upcoming construction and development of the lab. According to Lin Yuanqing, the current director of the Baidu Deep Learning Laboratory, “Baidu will provide software, hardware, and talent support to the lab”, which guarantees the lab’s research capacity in speech recognition, computer vision, and natural language processing (NLP).
Baidu plans to open another research institution in SV after the Silicon Valley AI Lab. According to Bloomberg news, the company will add another 150 employees on top of the current 200 in Sunnyvale, California. “In alignment with Baidu’s global strategy, being able to attract world-class talent is very important.” says Baidu in a public statement.
In the past two and a half years, Baidu invested 2.9 billion USD in R & D. This is under the condition where Baidu’s annual revenue growth fell from 30% to 6% from 2012 to 2015. Alibaba has also recently surpassed Baidu in the internet advertising market, although the latter’s annual advertising revenue reached approximately 10 billion USD.
Q1 AI Research: Baidu Research Publishes Paper on TTS Research:“Real-Time Neural Text-to-Speech for Production” and Proposes to Build “Deep Voice”.
On March 1, Baidu Research releases the new proposal to build Deep Voice, a voice-to-text transcoding system based entirely on deep neural networks. In the past, the biggest obstacle for building such a system is the speed of audio synthesis (previous methodologies took few minutes to few hours to generate a few seconds of text). Baidu Research is able to perform real-time speech synthesis. The anticipated processing time of Deep Voice is 400 times the speed of Google WaveNet. Click to read BR’s published paper Real-Time Neural Text-to-Speech for Production on ArXiv.
Q1 Self-Driving Cars: Baidu IDG Announces the launch of “Apollo”; Baidu Acquires Silicon Valley Start-Up xPerception.
Shortly after the formation of Baidu IDG (Intelligence Driving Group) in March, Baidu launches the company’s new “Apollo” program, which allegedly provides open, complete and secure software, hardware and service solution plans for the company’s partners in the auto industry.
Currently, Baidu is among the four most influential global tech companies seeking the blue ocean of self-driving cars, alongside Tencent, Alibaba and Waymo (Alphabet). It has the competitive edge in AI R & D, data, maps and software, and a big lead in the China market. The company also partnered with chip manufacturer Nvidia and BAIC (a Chinese state-owned enterprise of automobile manufacturing), invested 75 million USD in Silicon Valley based LiDar sensor company Velodyne, electric car company Nio and Uber. In 2017, Baidu acquired Silicon Valley start-up xPerception, which focuses on the development of SLAM technology (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) to help AR/VR, mobile 3D applications, maps, and self-driving cars position and navigate.
The race towards the ultimate price of AI is on. As Andrew Ng leaves Baidu, he addresses AI to be “the new electricity”. Will Baidu grasp the opportunity as claimed by its CEO and undertake the task to automate the China market or more?
Author: Meghan Han