When Andrew Ng, one of the world’s leading thinkers on artificial intelligence, announced he would be stepping down from his position as chief scientist at Chinese search giant Baidu, the company’s stock dropped nearly 3 percent in just a few hours.
It was a reflection not only of Ng’s prominence and fame, but also of the importance investors have placed on the search giant’s focus on AI. The technology has become a key element of the company’s strategy, and Ng’s departure comes at a time when Baidu is determined to double down on its AI efforts.
Baidu has quickly reaffirmed its commitment to AI, naming Wang Haifeng, an expert in natural-language processing, as Ng’s replacement.
CEO Robin Li has recently written numerous opinion pieces in Chinese newspapers about the importance of developing AI expertise. “The disruption in traditional business models, industrial chain, and value chain brought about by artificial intelligence will cause fundamental changes in the global economy,” Li writes in People’s Daily, a government flagship newspaper, in early March.
And also in March, China’s National Development and Reform Commission approved Baidu as the leader of the new National Engineering Lab of Deep Learning Technology and Application, reflecting China’s top-level government dedication to AI development.
In the lab, Baidu will collaborate with top Chinese universities including Tsinghua, exploring a variety of different areas of AI research including visual perception, speech recognition, and human-machine interaction.
Shengjin Wang, a professor at Tsinghua University who studies computer vision and image recognition, and who also contributes to the research done at the national lab, says Baidu has been a leading player in AI, and there is reason to believe that it will be able to maintain its lead.
“Personally I think it’s a pity,” Wang says about Ng’s departure. But he stresses that Ng has built a very solid AI team with over 1,300 researchers at Baidu already, giving the company an advantage in human resources. Baidu also has a competitive edge because of the large amounts of data it has collected from its search engine business, he says. Additionally, he thinks the newly formed Intelligent Driving Group, which focuses on automated driving research, shows the company is heading in a good direction.
Read the source article at MIT Technology Review.