AI whiz Andrew Ng quits Baidu

Andrew Ng quits Baidu

Andrew Ng giving a presentation at Stanford in February 2017. Screengrab from Stanford video.

Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Chinese search giant Baidu, today announced his resignation.

Hired in 2014, Andrew joined Baidu to oversee its research initiatives in artificial intelligence, especially work in speech recognition. During his tenure, the Chinese tech giant opened research centers for deep learning, big data research, AI, and more recently, augmented reality.

Before Baidu, Andrew founded Google Brain, Google’s deep learning research project that famously built a neural network that can recognize cats. He’s also the co-founder of education platform Coursera and is an adjunct professor of deep learning at Stanford University.

“Baidu’s AI is incredibly strong, and the team is stacked up and down with talent; I am confident AI at Baidu will continue to flourish,” wrote Ng. “After Baidu, I am excited to continue working toward the AI transformation of our society and the use of AI to make life better for everyone.”

Big blow to Baidu

His resignation will be a big loss for Baidu. The company poured US$430 million into research and development in the final three months of last year – a 19.5 percent increase from last year – which encompasses its initiatives in AI.

“Andrew joined Baidu because of our shared pursuit for the future of AI,” stated Baidu on its official Weibo account, China’s answer to Twitter. “We still have this goal, which is to push forward the development of AI and make life in the future more beautiful.”

“Despite our regrets, we send our thanks and blessings! We wish Andrew even greater success in the future, and hope all goes well!”

Baidu’s Silicon Valley AI Lab is based in Sunnyvale, California. Photo credit: Tech in Asia.

Baidu has also been ramping up its investments in AI startups, such as voice-assistant startup Raven Tech, which it acquired this year. In February, Baidu announced plans to help the Chinese government build a national AI lab.

Andrew’s reputation drew other talented AI researchers to Baidu. Adam Coates, director of Baidu’s Silicon Valley AI Lab, met Andrew when he was a junior at Stanford studying computer science. It was after working with Andrew that he decided to focus on deep learning.

“I started working with [Ng] on helicopters and discovered AI and machine learning technologies,” Adam told Tech in Asia in February. “That got me excited about machine learning. This is sort of the next big thing: there are programs I do not know how to write, but I can create a piece of software that solves that on its own.”

See: Making ‘Her’ a reality: how Baidu’s AI Lab plans to solve speech recognition

In his resignation post, Ng detailed the scale of Baidu’s AI push:

“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.”

And how the team spearheaded new products:

“We have also used AI to develop new lines of business. 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 authorized 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 hailed China’s and the US’ joint strength in new AI tech:

“I’ve also been privileged to learn from both the US and Chinese AI communities — both of which are powerhouses. The US is very good at inventing new technology ideas. China is very good at inventing and quickly shipping AI products. I’m happy also to have had an opportunity to contribute to the rise of AI in both China and the US.”

Ng said he’s “more optimistic than ever about the fantastic future we will build with AI,” and added:

“Just as electricity transformed many industries roughly 100 years ago, AI will also now change nearly every major industry — healthcare, transportation, entertainment, manufacturing — enriching the lives of countless people. I am more excited than ever about where AI can take us.”

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