Lead: US technology Web site Wired recently entered Baidu, interviewed CEO Robin Li et al., Sorted out the story behind Baidu embarked on the road of artificial intelligence. After missing the mobile Internet, Baidu began to focus on artificial intelligence, hoping to regain China's Internet dominance in this technology.
The following is the original article:
Perhaps, last summer, when Robin Li decided to launch the future of Baidu's unmanned vehicle on the front seat of a self-driving car, he just wanted to draw people's attention. He hoped to draw the attention of Apollo, a new generation of AI tools, and Robin Li hoped Apollo would power all vehicles in the country.
As early as the launch of China's most mainstream search engine Baidu, Robin Li became a celebrity in China. But even Robin Li himself did not expect him to get so much attention now. Autonomous vehicles currently can not be legally on the road in China, but Robin Lee took the automatic driving vehicle broadcast this illegal event & mdash; This is why he became the focus of hot search video. He said: "I did not realize that this would attract the attention of so many people because having an autopilot car is not entirely legal. & rdquo ;.
Three months later, when we reviewed all of this from a seven-storey building in Baidu's old headquarters, Haidian District, Beijing, Robin Li could smile. A newer, more magnificent building is like a neighbor just 15 minutes' drive from Beijing's standard headquarters by a Beijing headquarters with a two-story slide and a meeting room that resembles a bear's claw. In both places, employee identification cards have been replaced by facial recognition technology. To buy a cup of green tea from a vending machine, you can pay with your brush face. The new headquarters is full of futurity, Baidu's computing power is evident.
I passed Beijing to witness this delicate moment in the history of Baidu. 18 years ago, Baidu has developed the most important search engine in China. Such a real business opportunity is enough to make it the pivotal technology company in China. However, it is more and more difficult to run a Chinese search company in 2017 as more Chinese browse the web through apps instead of using a browser. WeChat and Alibaba have cleverly ported their businesses to mobile devices, compared to Baidu's missed bus. Since then, it has been trying to catch up. In order to rise to the dominance of the future, Baidu needs to find a new model of rapid growth. Fortunately, the world provided him with such an opportunity: "The Age of Artificial Intelligence has come," Robin Li told me. He put Baidu's future in his commitment to Asia and the world - he will grasp the future of artificial intelligence.
So far, some North American companies have long invested in AI and are the first to introduce new technologies and products. Many of the most forward-looking researchers in AI are in Silicon Valley, U.S.A. or Canada. The largest technology companies in the United States were among the first companies to have integrated technology that enabled smartphones to change from car to second, just like Google Home and Amazon Echo.
However, Robin Li has reason to believe that in Asia, companies that are ready to enter the AI industry, even if they are not optimistic, have their own advantages. It is unclear how artificial intelligence will change our lives, but it is clear that change is coming. Although these companies will be affected by the inevitable impact of the change, they can grasp and promote the basic technology in the best position, and this is where Baidu's competitiveness lies. Similar to the top five technology companies in the United States, Apple, Google's parent company Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon, Baidu has strong computing power, a set of AI services called "Baidu brain", a rapidly improving voice assistant platform called DuerOS . Robin Li said: "We are one of the few companies that can develop this technology. & rdquo;
Baidu's biggest advantage is the location and time. Robin Li said that his strategy is applied in the development of artificial intelligence AI almost no moral abduction under the cultural atmosphere. In Western countries, we were prejudiced by our planning algorithms and were concerned about undermining the pace of development of traditional career paths, while the emergence of new technologies was even more slow. In China, this is the opposite: the company removes public pressure as soon as possible. In July, the Chinese government released a development plan with the goal of becoming the global leader in AI Artificial Intelligence by 2030. Followed by the original data for the algorithm: data. China has nearly 731 million Internet users, more than double that of U.S. Internet users. When netizens use those millions of information searches, video views and online payments, these informative data paths are attractive enough to make any one AI research institute salivate.
All this means that China is expected to become a hotbed of artificial intelligence in the near future. Robin Li firmly believes that he will make Baidu catch the next revolution opportunity, which in turn will make Baidu occupy the right place in the industry. Robin Li stressed that his company will provide artificial intelligence services, covering all aspects of all walks of life, from medicine to the car to smart entertainment, will use artificial intelligence. "In human history, humans invented the tools and then had to learn how to use the tools," Robin Li told me, "In the future, tools and devices will learn about humans." & rdquo;
This is a revolution that Robin Lee can not make mistakes, after all, he missed the first chance.
Lu Qi into Baidu
In China, people often talk about BAT three giants on the remarkable influence of science and technology industry. In addition to Alibaba and Tencent, Baidu is one of them, and Li Yanhong founded the company after returning from studying in the United States. He earned a master's degree in computer science from the State University of New York at Buffalo and later spent two years as a technical engineer at American search engine company Infoseek. After returning home, Robin Li and co-founder Xu Yong founded Baidu - the largest search engine company in China, and was listed in the United States in 2005.
On the surface, this seems to be an extraordinary success story. However, in the past many years, Tencent and Alibaba continue to grow and develop, Baidu, "but the city does not guarantee", the reason stems from a major mistake. Although Alibaba, Tencent and other technology companies have launched mobile products such as WeChat to attract more and more Chinese Internet users to choose to use mobile Internet, Baidu is still clinging to the PC side, missing the opportunity to move to the mobile market. When Robin Li began to lead resources to mobile development, Chinese Internet users have favored App applications. Since we can order tickets and chat in WeChat, what is the need for them to open a browser and Baidu search? "In the mobile age, we have nothing to do," Robin Li said. The network effect once benefited the search company: the more people used, the more data it collected, the better the quality of service. However, once people no longer search, the advantage vanishes quickly. Robin Li said, "Even if you master the best technology, if the lack of data, everything is pathetic. & rdquo;
In an effort to make up for its mistakes, Baidu Company once threw tens of billions of dollars in the development of take-outs and on-line e-commerce businesses such as online shopping malls, but mostly because consumers did not buy it. Then in 2016, the crisis is coming. A cancer-stricken college student under the search results found in Baidu, unfortunately, died, regulators and therefore strengthen the law enforcement of medical advertising, which has been one of Baidu's most important source of revenue.
By the end of 2016, Baidu urgently needs to change its face. Not only must there be a visionary new leadership team, but also a new leadership team, a streamlined technical process and a bold strategy. At this point, Li Yanhong thought of old friend Lu Qi.
In the engineer industry, Lu Qi can definitely be regarded as the biggest names in the world, as Madonna, in this area, without mentioning his last name, the name is already overruled. As a computer scientist with keen logical thinking, Lu Qi's career history directly outlines the birth and evolution of the entire Internet. At Microsoft, Luki is a Senior Associate with Nadella CEO and is responsible for leading the company's strategic AI planning and has earned the respect of the industry's most respected practitioners, including Joshua & Cassidy of Canadian Computer Science Division. Bengio), at Luki's invitation, the latter for the first time agreed to provide Microsoft with advice and assistance. Lu Qi said Bill Gates as a friend, but he is also very good at identifying and nurturing young talent. For example, Jesse Lyu, product manager for Baidu smart speaker, ended the Y Combinator Incubator project in 2015, sending Luki an e-mail for advice, after the two had only one occasion at Demo Day. Lu Qi invited him to meet Sunday at Microsoft's Sunnyvale office on Sunday afternoon.
Luki currently has more than 40 patents and holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University. In the 90's from the Yahoo company started, Lu Qi and search-related technology played for decades. His acquaintance with Robin Li went back more than 20 years, when they all worked in Silicon Valley. "In the past 10-15 years, we have been maintaining regular meetings and exchanging opinions." Robin Li said, "I talk about what I see and hear in China. He talks about the technological developments seen in large enterprises like Microsoft." & rdquo;
Last fall, Lu Qi left Microsoft for wounds, Robin Li saw the opportunity to quickly lobby his friends to work in Baidu. In Lucci's opinion, this time is just right. A good opportunity to grow in China is fleeting: massive amounts of raw data, government support, public expectations, and ample talent pool. These factors and high-tech aura in China against the background of each other. Business leaders face enormous pressure and support from the government and must move quickly. Recently, I talked with famous venture capitalist Kai-fu Lee. He wrote a new book on artificial intelligence and is now setting up an AI startup in Beijing. Kai-fu Lee made it clear that the Chinese government is working hard to support the financial development of AI. "Even those small cities are planning grants, totaling up to 100 million U.S. dollars," he said. "If you're an AI company and want to expand, tell the government directly how much you want, . & rdquo;
In most cases, the community also supports the development of AI. I asked Robin Li if China's entrepreneurs are concerned about the possible unexpected consequences of the development of AI. "This is not a question that China is considering," he said. "The government is paying more attention to the positive impact of artificial intelligence. At this point, I agree with the government. In Robin Li's opinion, AI is not much different from other new technologies. He compared the development of AI with e-commerce and explained that from the outset people were worried about using credit cards online. Robin Li pointed out that "things are changing and you have to adapt to it. Mankind can always find the right way to deal with potential threats. & rdquo;
For Lu Qi, this atmosphere has a huge temptation, so he flew to Beijing in January this year, as Baidu vice president and chief operating officer (COO). Robin Li control strategic direction, Lu Qi specifically responsible for the company's day-to-day operations. The two meet twice a week to exchange opinions on a regular basis. These conversations are very important and determine the future of Baidu.
Baidu's road to autopilot
Before Lu Qi joined Baidu has been investing resources for six years to explore the depth of AI and its pioneering areas. In 2014, Baidu appointed a talented expert on artificial intelligence research, Wu Nuda, as chief scientist and in charge of the newly opened research center in Silicon Valley. Wu Nanda has attracted scientists from all over the world who wish to work with him to join Baidu. He developed a strategy for Baidu's interactive artificial intelligence system DuerOS and Baidu brain, which contributed to Baidu's early efforts in the development of automatic driving. Lu Qi plans to take over Wu Nanda's work, and to carry forward these achievements.
How to be indifferent is the challenge Baidu faces. In addition to artificial intelligence, the company also launched a number of other businesses. For example, there are three business areas of automatic driving. After taking office, Lu Qi took the first three months to reorganize Baidu's business. There are two major issues requiring prioritization: one is to enhance the company's core business by improving the mobile search capability, and the other is the transformation into an artificial intelligence industry army head. He withdrew Baidu's mobile healthcare division and stepped up its venture capital arm, Baidu Ventures. He reorganized the autopilot business and merged the three divisions into one and reported directly to him. When we talked last summer, he told me: "I am also responsible for research and development, sales and marketing, because I want to ensure that our overall strategy is fully synchronized and absolutely in sync. & rdquo;
At first, Robin Li asked Lu Qi if Baidu would open its own autopilot technology. This is Robin Li thought for a period of time. This approach is essentially equivalent to Baidu for the car to provide a ready-made "brain"; the price is that Baidu can access the data of car manufacturers, it will help Baidu train their own computer program algorithms. Robin Li said: "(Lu Qi) done his due diligence, and then came to tell me:" This is a good idea, we should do it. After that, they named the project "Apollo."
Minibus equipped with Apollo autopilot technology
July 5 this year, Beijing's air is very fresh, and not as usual hazy days. Baidu artificial intelligence developer conference the same day at the Beijing National Convention Center. Crowds gathered outside the venue, we all hope to have a glimpse of Baidu's most ambitious project is really charming. In the convention center's parking lot, a short distance from the rows of orange-sharing bicycles, there is a minibus shaped like a pod and its length and height are almost equal. A red rope surrounded the bus and a security guard stared at bystanders to keep them from getting too close to the car. It is one of the first commercial vehicles to utilize Apollo's autopilot software platform, which will soon run through China's major north-south. They are the result of cooperation between domestic manufacturer Golden Dragon Bus and Baidu. The bus is scheduled to start short-haul passengers by the set route by the middle of next year. Its source of technology was written at the rear of the car, showing signs of the Apollo project.
Robin Li predicts that by 2019, Baidu's partners will achieve mass production of semi-autonomous vehicles. This means that those cars will have many autopilot functions, but also human drivers need to interact with them. Robin Li also predicts that by 2021, fully autonomous vehicles will be fully operational.
Apollo is a free, available software tool for anyone. It is not only the most important project of Baidu, but also the biggest gamble since Baidu was launched. Lu Qi predicts that he will spend 40% of his time managing the project. Baidu hopes to follow Google's Android system to create an environment where everyone can try to create great products. In the future, self-driving car makers rely on Apollo, just as Android is at the center of smartphone makers. The Apollo platform consists of core software, many cloud services and GPS (autonomous system), camera, lidar, radar and other autonomous driving car hardware. Successful operation of the project will likely help Baidu's late-gamers catch up with competitors who have already developed autonomous driving technology. Waymo, the parent company of Alphabet's Alphabet, has been investing in autonomous driving research and development since 2009.
From the beginning, creating an ecosystem open to developers gave Baidu a challenge. At that time, Baidu had several closely-related enterprises to become partners, but Li Yanhong feared that once the Apollo platform was opened, the existing cooperative enterprises would not receive any preferential treatment compared with other automobile manufacturers and would hurt their cooperation . However, after making private contacts with these partners, he found each other happy to embrace such ideas. For those businesses, an open platform means that Baidu will speed up technology faster. "We saw the signals that many other companies missed and we could give them that signal. "said Robin Li.
Baidu also has a technical concern, it is more tricky. Robin Li pointed out: "Internally, the (Apollo's) code is not concise enough. "If Apollo is opening up the code, he fears that Baidu's engineers will be criticized. To make the code simple To spend several months time, Baidu engineers have felt the progress of the work backward. However, Robin Li felt the need to start immediately, in the long run this can speed up the work. As a result, engineers immediately rush to catch up. By July this year, Apollo finally ready to take.
In China, an open ecosystem is a fairly smart move. Because this market has more than 200 car manufacturers, unlike the United States only Ford, General Motors and several other giants dominance. From a strategic perspective, Baidu can not clearly determine which Chinese manufacturers will be very good partners. Now any domestic company can download Apollo's software and start building its own products. Take Chery as an example. The Wuhu-based Chinese automaker has been established for 20 years and has 3,500 engineers. Chery knows that the government will relax the policy in the field of automatic driving, so companies can engage in experimental fields in this area. But Chery apparently should decide to work with Baidu because, as Huang Yong, director of Chery Smart Car Technology Center, said, the company lacks the technical expertise to automate driving. Huang Yong said: "They are the leader in this industry. & rdquo;
Baidu announced Apollo project less than half a year, more than 70 companies have signed a partnership, of which there are many well-known global companies such as Ford and NVIDIA. Of course, just as Andrews, the free operating system eventually brought more returns for Google, so that Google's products to win more users also get more advertising revenue, Robin Li also hopes that Apollo will help Baidu earn real money . He expects Baidu to initially sell maps or simulate training services. And as long as you begin to digest the data collected by Apollo in the future, Baidu will have a broader business opportunity in the future that will exceed the company's management's imagination.
Search for AI talent
Baidu urgently needs the best engineers to join Apollo and other projects. As American businesses have discovered, it is extremely difficult to retain the best members of the company. Three years ago, Baidu had hired some of the world's most authoritative academics in the field of AI to lead its own AI team: Andrew Ng, a graduate of Stanford University who is also the co-founder of the famous "Google Brains" project one. However, a few months after Lu Qi joined Baidu, Wu Enda resigned. He said he wanted to pursue the project he wanted more. Since then, he published the contents of the AI class, there are reports that he was leaving his own company founded Baidu.
To replace Wu Nanda is a Chinese engineer named Wang Haifeng. Wang Haifeng now serves in Baidu's Beijing headquarters, not in Sunnyvale, California R & D institutions, he and Wu Nanda is a completely different style leader. Wu Nanda is a superstar and charismatic speaker in academia who will draw researchers to make new progress in AI with him. In the eyes of those who worked with Wang Haifeng, Wang Haifeng belongs to a very capable and pragmatic engineer. Kai-fu Lee once described him: "He will complete all the work, a lot of execution. & rdquo;
Baidu's appointment of Wang Haifeng also reflects a major change in China's current history. Many businesses in China now have to hire senior AI researchers from North America. But now the situation is changing. "The technology gap between China and the United States is rapidly shrinking," Lu Qi said. But the importance of the North American market is still significant. (Baidu also set up its own office in Seattle after the acquisition of small start-up Kitt.ai this summer.) Lu Qi believes that there will be more localization of Baidu engineers.
In the Baidu meeting a lot of evidence that Lu Qi said nothing. That afternoon, Baidu Assembly, Wang Haifeng and other engineers attended the working conference and speech. Developers squeeze out of the corridors outside the stadium, waiting for the start of the morning keynote speech, they are in control of the notes of existing projects in their own hands. It is said that Baidu will release a new hardware product. An engineer disclosed to reporters that he heard is a smart speaker release. As far as I can see, these developers do have very good chances. Baidu must strive to persuade the most talented among them, and let them believe that this series of questions is interesting, and their chances of success in Baidu is very large.
Baidu's "Two More Thing"
Steve & middot; Steve Jobs's most anticipated oath is the phrase familiar phrase "One More Thing", hindsight, these words look like a long time waiting for the product was leaked, whether Is the past iPod, iPhone or MacBook, are the case. Therefore, the young product manager behind Baidu smart speakers Lu Cheng, at the annual Baidu World Science and Technology Conference published his latest speech, his face filled with a confident smile, he learned from Steve Jobs's sentence: "& ldquo; Two More Things. & rdquo;
But did not cause a great reaction. Perhaps because the reporters, developers and analysts crowded together at the Beijing Convention Center are not enthusiasts of Jobs; or because of the long 45-minute product description of Lu Cheng: the speakers are bright colors He also gives a detailed description of plastic packaging, including a few minutes of interviews with Swedish designers. However, Lu Cheng did not explain what they did. (Imagine the reaction of the original Amazon smart speakers enthusiasts). Lü Cheng tried to overtake Jobs but lost his way in chaos and crowding when he said "there are two other things about a toy dog robot and an orange robot that can dance with the music , And did not respond very much.
The effect is obvious. Baidu's new product is really cool, but can not be regarded as iPhone-class products.
Back to the topic just now, the battle of the global AI technology will not be decided by the announcement of a best speaker, and will not lead the huge mobile market as the first to launch a fully-automatic car. If the first company to win will win, then Nokia should be the winner today.
Baidu does not need in order to achieve ambition, you must beat Jobs. Perhaps Baidu robot did not make the audience feel amazing, but Robin Li can look to the future. At that time, Baidu should not just be synonymous with a series of products, but should become the driving force behind all the internal forces. This driving force can make Baidu back to China's Internet dominance, and may even have greater development. (Also deep, Si Mei, to Kun, think wild goose)