Where will Qi Lu lead Baidu’s AI arm after Andrew Ng leaves?

Andrew Ng, one of the world’s most prominent Artificial Intelligence (AI) scientists, on Wednesday published an open letter on Medium to announce his resignation from the post of Baidu Chief Scientist.

Ever since joining Baidu in 2014, Andrew Ng has headed the AI business which now consists of 1,300 researchers and engineers. Ng led the AI team which gave birth to two new business units: the autonomous driving unit, and the DuerOS Conversational Computing platform.

Andrew Ng. Photo from Zhidx.com

Industry insiders believe that Baidu’s new group president Qi Lu will be the head of Baidu AI business after Andrew Ng’s resignation.

Who is Lu, and what change did he bring?

In middle January, the company appointed former Microsoft executive Qi Lu as group president and COO.

Qi Lu is an influential executive in the tech sector. As an executive at Microsoft, he reported directly to the CEO Satya Nadella. At Microsoft he led a series of ventures, including Microsoft Office, Office365, and Bing.

Several high level managers who used to report to Robin Li, including Andrew Ng and Wang Jing, will report to Qi Lu. At the time of Qi Lu’s appointment, Baidu founder Robin Li announced AI would be the most important strategic area for the company over the next decade.

Indeed, Lu has become the most powerful person in the organisation beside Robin Li.

Robin Li (left) and Qi Lu. Photo from Baidu Images.
Robin Li (left) and Qi Lu. Photo from Baidu Images.

Lu soon became the head of Baidu’s autonomous driving business. In early this month, a Baidu internal email letter said that Wang Jing will step down from the post of head as the company’s autonomous driving arm. The reason, Baidu told Chinese news portal Sina, is that Wang needs to rest for a while within Baidu.

In any case, according to the letter, the autonomous driving business was integrated within Baidu’s new Intelligent Driving Group (IDG), headed by Qi Lu.

Wang on Monday announced that he is to resign from Baidu in April and start his own driverless car startup.

What about the other important business unit – the DuerOS Conversational Computing platform?

On 16 February, Baidu promoted the DuerOS team to a group which reports directly to Qi Lu, aiming to speed up its application to products and marketization.

The acquisition of Raven Tech and beyond

On the same day, Baidu acquired the domestic digital assistant startup Raven Tech. Founded in 2014, the Beijing-based company claimed it was “developing next-generation voice interactive operating system”.

The startup in December last year unveiled a smart home device and named it the Raven H1. It consists of a main unit, a screen, and a loudspeaker. The company claims it is going to help its owners become “totally hands free” at home.

The former Raven Tech team will set up a smart appliance department inside Baidu. The startup’s founder Lü Pin will head the new team and report to Qi Lu.

In the middle of this month, Baidu led an investment into the electric car startup NextEV. The investment amount reached USD 600 million, according to Chinese media.

Along with confirming Andrew Ng’s departure, Baidu announced that they would set up an AI Group, AIG, integrating the company’s core technologies, including natural language processing (NLP), speech, and big data. The company also promoted former Vice President Wang Haifeng to be an Estaff member, to head AIG and report to Qi Lu.

To conclude, Qi Lu is leading Baidu AI’s evolution from theoretical research to AI-driven, commercially viable products.

(Top photo from Baidu Images)

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