Chinese Internet search giant Baidu has extended its technology arm to the U.S., by investing around $300 million in a new research and development (R&D) center in Sunnyvale, California.
The Silicon Valley Artificial Intelligence (AI) Lab, along with the Beijing Deep Learning Lab (formerly known as the Institute of Deep Learning), and the Beijing Big Data Lab, will be led by Baidu’s new chief scientist Andrew Ng. Ng was founder of Google’s deep-learning project, director of Stanford’s artificial intelligence lab, and a co-founder of massive open online course (MOOC) provider Coursera.
Baidu’s move highlights the pace of global growth for Chinese Internet companies, with some of its competitors already establishing setups within the U.S. For example, domestic rival Alibaba has burrowed its way into the Silicon Valley investment circles, snapping up large stakes and board seats in fast-growing start-ups. One can only presume that the company is gearing up to compete with the likes of Amazon or eBay on their home turf.
The predominant focus for Baidu’s AI lab will be deep learning – the smarter use of data to provide more insightful consumer experiences. Deep learning is a new area that tech companies are moving into. In January of this year, Google acquired London-based start-up DeepMind which had a large concentration of researchers in deep learning. Meanwhile, Facebook recruited a group of experts last September to work on this technology.
Although deep learning has become a buzzword in technology, it is a field where researchers are in short supply. According to Yoshua Bengio, an AI researcher at the University of Montreal, there are only around 50 experts worldwide in deep learning.
It is still unclear whether or not Baidu’s move into the deep learning arena will boost revenues for the company. One thing for sure, though, is that the proliferation of data will definitely give it the competitive edge it needs to keep up with its Google-like rivals.
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