Baidu puts AI first
According to Baidu CEO Robin Li: “the era of mobile internet has ended. We’re going to aggressively invest in AI, and I think it’s going to benefit a lot of people and transform industry after industry.”
Baidu, often referred to as the “Chinese Google”, is the Chinese online search market leader. But its fortunes are falling as other sites – notably, Alibaba – are gobbling up more and more of the internet territory that was once Baidu’s. The company hopes that a new focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI) can return it to pole position.
Last month, the National Development and Reform Commission appointed Baidu to lead a new AI lab, which implies that the government of the People’s Republic of China believes Baidu could be a national champion in this area. It is also true that Baidu has pre-existing interests in the subject: over the last two and a half years, the company has spent 20 billion yuan on research and development. Most of that has gone on AI.
As a starting point, the company is focusing on its translation services. Baidu allegedly has roughly 100 million English-to-Chinese paired terms to experiment on. An impressive amount, to be sure, but nowhere near American rival Alphabet’s 500 million. Baidu’s response to this deficit in terms is to up the manpower on the project significantly.
Baidu has more than enough places to pull the data from – nobody doubts that. It has a wide portfolio of web services and properties, the history of which is probably the largest and most detailed set of consumer data ever produced in China.
The company believes once it’s cracked the AI world, it will be in a powerful position against future online competitors. Because AI is not really a product – it’s an infrastructure that enables products. Those products could be self-driving cars and digital personal assistants, or they could be robotic helpers around the home. And pretty much anything in-between!
Baidu’s president, Zhang Ya-Qin, describes the proliferation of AI applications, summarising the company’s strategy succinctly:
“In the next three to five years all those areas have the potential to become another Baidu. Right now it’s time to make some bets.”
Dominion holds Baidu in its Global Trends Ecommerce Fund.
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