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In late March, Andrew Ng, a renowned Chinese-American artificial intelligence (AI) expert, announced his resignation as chief scientist at Baidu, a Chinese search engine giant and one of the country’s largest internet companies.
“After Baidu, I am excited to continue working to make AI transform our society and make life better for everyone,” Ng wrote on his blog, announcing his departure after three years with Baidu. Although Ng hasn’t announced his next job, his services are in high demand, as he is considered one of the world’s leading thinkers on AI.
Building AI Top-to-Bottom
Ng joined Baidu in 2014, when the company was already investing heavily in teaching computers to see and hear. Realizing the huge opportunity for machine intelligence applications in China, the scientist quickly set up an AI-first strategy for the company, with an eye on the future. Understandably, China is home to some of the most visited websites in the world, including Baidu, Taobao, and Weibo, to name just a few. Thus, when any of these enterprises design a new application, they have a keen interest in optimizing access to available consumers.
During his three-year stint at Baidu, Ng oversaw the creation of the company’s AI research team and led a force of some 1,300 people in both Beijing and Silicon Valley. That included the 300-member Baidu Research Team, which brought together top global research talent to work on various AI projects such as image and speech recognition, high performance computing, natural language processing and deep learning, in four different labs.
Under Ng, Baidu researchers launched a number of AI projects to improve the company’s existing operations including food delivery, search, security, and voice recognition, and created new lines of expansion for the business in the fields of automated driving and Baidu’s AI operating system DuerOS. However, the most promising product remains an AI robot which has attracted enormous attention and is expected to eventually influence the lives of millions of ordinary people.
Baidu’s AI robot, which was launched a few years ago, attracted enormous public attention in China in late 2016. That year, the popular television show Super Brain in China promoted a battle between Baidu-developed AI robots and human competitors. The challenge, featuring facial and voice recognition technologies, invited gifted individuals who had excelled on the show’s previous seasons to represent human beings. For example, Wang Yuheng possesses incredible abilities in image identification. During one contest, he picked up the correct glass of water from 520 glasses that looked almost identical. Wang once also used this gift to help police find a hit-and-run suspect from grainy surveillance images.
The results of the duel were interesting. Although the robot beat its human rivals in image recognition, it lost in voice recognition. “Humans have evolved for thousands of years to perform image and voice recognition,” notes Ng. “But computers have just learned to do it, and need to receive ample data to succeed. Super Brain in China features so many powerful and excellent participants that I was nervous to bring even the most powerful AI to compete against them.”