How will Baidu win China’s AI race – and, possibly, of the world

A company might have the best technology in the world. It may have the strongest talent. It probably has the most interesting product ideas. But to train the algorithms that will provide the intelligence to transform our cities, it needs data. To put it in a witty way: The company with the most data wins.

That’s why earlier this year, after leaving Microsoft last fall, legendary engineer Qi Lu went to Beijing to become Baidu’s chief executive. At his former job, he was also deputy chief executive officer Satya Nadella in helping lead the company’s AI strategy. Apparently, he’s seen more opportunities across the Pacific: In China, 731 million people – nearly twice the entire population of the United States – are online. “China has a structural advantage,” Lu said.

On July 26, while Lu visited Silicon Valley, we sat down for exclusive interview. Lu gave an extensive explanation of how Baidu can dominate AI in China. And most parts of the world, Lu notes, have more in common with small Chinese homes than the vast McMansions in North America. He believes that could be China’s biggest advantage in bringing AI to the global market. Sure, the US tech giants could lead in talent – for now – but Lu believes Baidu has what it takes to conquer the world.

Jessi Hempel: In the time since you came to Baidu, there has been an overhaul. As a COO, what is your role at the company?

I work very, very closely with Robin [Li, Baidu CEO]. We guarantee him and I are completely in sync. I run R&D, sales and marketing, because I want to ensure that our overall strategy is completely in sync. That is number one. Second, I feel that we are now much clearer and more focused, strategically. It was really two battles. One is strengthening our mobile platform. The other is leading the AI ​​era.

How would you describe your AI strategy?

We believe that the best way to commercialize AI technology is to build ecosystems. Essentially, to enable our partners to better accelerate their innovation rate, use healthy, stable economic models to build our developers and partners together. have long term benefits. The baseline is Baidu Brain [the term Baidu uses for all of its AI assets]. It’s broader and broader than what Microsoft and Google offer today in the United States, because it’s a platform. We have 60 different types of AI services in our suite of apps that we call Baidu Brain.

And we were the first big company to clearly separate the perception and perception layers. Cognitive and cognitive abilities are related, but they are completely different. Almost [other] The AI ​​platform brings them together.

What is the equivalent of Baidu or Siri or Cortana?

We are focusing on two platforms to bring customers and partners together. The first platform we call DuerOS. DuerOS is a natural language, conversational and human based computing platform. Very similar to Alexa, Google Now, Siri or Cortana in the US. The only difference is that DuerOS is far ahead of anyone else. DuerOS in China has amassed more conversation-based skill sets than anyone else. We have 10 main domains [and] We have developed over 100 sub-areas of conversational skills. We are also building an emerging partner ecosystem. As a result, our partners are building more and more skill sets. Amazon, perhaps, has more than Baidu right now, because it has a larger partner ecosystem in the United States. But compared to most companies, in China, we are clearly the lead.

Second, we are also clear leaders in our partners. Today DuerOS is present in more than 100 brands of private home appliances, whether it’s refrigerators, air conditioners, TVs, storytellers or speakers.

How does the US voice technology market compare to the Chinese market?

The home environment is very different. Because we are talking about voice interactions. The sound environment, the type of noise, will vary greatly. Alexa, Echo and Cortana are optimized for homes in the US. In my opinion this only works in North America and possibly part of Europe. Basically, the assumption is that you have spacious homes; you have some room. In China, it’s not like that at all. For our goal, even for the high-income generation, they typically have 60 square meters [645 square feet], sometimes 90 square meters [970 square feet].

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