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Artificial intelligence expert Andrew Ng steps down from Chinese tech giant Baidu

Posted: 9 May 2017 | By Darcie Thompson-Fields

Andrew Ng is leaving Baidu after three years as it chief scientist in what is expected to be a huge setback for the Chinese tech group’s artificial intelligence efforts. The departure is the second instance of a high-profile foreign hire leaving a Chinese company this year.

Ng announced on Wednesday that he will be leaving the firm in April via a post on Medium. The departure could prove a significant blow to Baidu which is increasingly focused on AI. Earlier this year CEO Robin Li described the technology as the search giant’s “key strategic focus for the next decade”. The firm also scrapped its medical department to focus further on AI last month.

Ng leaves after four years at Baidu

“I joined Baidu in 2014 to work on AI. Since then, Baidu’s AI group has grown to roughly 1,300 people, which includes the 300-person Baidu Research. Our AI software is used every day by hundreds of millions of people. We have had tremendous revenue and product impact, through the many dozens of AI projects that support our existing businesses in search, advertising, maps, take-out delivery, voice search, security, consumer finance and many more. We have also used AI to develop new lines of business.” Ng wrote.

“My team birthed one new business unit per year each of the last two years: autonomous driving and the DuerOS Conversational Computing platform. We are also incubating additional promising technologies, such as face-recognition (used in turnstiles that open automatically when an authorised person approaches), Melody (an AI-powered conversational bot for healthcare) and several more. As the principal architect of Baidu’s AI strategy, I am proud to have led the incredible rise of AI within the company.”

Ng joined Baidu in 2014 from Coursea, an online education company that he co-founded. Prior to that, he worked on the Google Brain project and as a computer science professor at Stanford University.

The global AI community

Considered one of the leaders in artificial intelligence, Ng’s unusual move from Silicon Valley to a Chinese Internet company seemed a significant move for the company’s tech market. He joined Baidu months after Google Android’s Hugo Barra joined Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi. At the time these hires seemed to suggest that products and services from China’s tech giants might soon prove as popular in overseas markets as they are in China. Years later Baidu and Xiaomi have still yet to stir significant demand outside of their home markets. Barra announced in January that he would leave Xiaomi for Facebook.

Ng said that he does not plan to join another tech giant but instead work on further supporting the global AI community.

“I will continue my work to shepherd in this important societal change. In addition to transforming large companies to use AI, there are also rich opportunities for entrepreneurship as well as further AI research. I want all of us to have self-driving cars; conversational computers that we can talk to naturally; and healthcare robots that understand what ails us. The industrial revolution freed humanity from much repetitive physical drudgery; I now want AI to free humanity from repetitive mental drudgery, such as driving in traffic. This work cannot be done by any single company — it will be done by the global AI community of researchers and engineers.” Ng wrote.

“In addition to working on AI myself, I will also explore new ways to support all of you in the global AI community, so that we can all work together to bring this AI-powered society to fruition.”

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