Having started out in a Beijing hotel room in 2000, Baidu began to invest in artificial intelligence (AI) with the launch of its Institute of Deep Learning in 2013, to lead research in image-based search, voice recognition and advertising matching.

Now, after officially renaming itself from a “search business” to a “mobile business” in 2019, Baidu is among those leading the AI charge towards China’s technology goals.

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Following in the footsteps of Chinese tech peers Alibaba and Tencent, Baidu laid out the blueprint for its new infrastructure projects in June. 

Collectively known as the BAT trio, China’s biggest tech players have all announced investment campaigns in cloud computing, data chips and AI for the next decade, aligning with government policy to accelerate technological infrastructure as part of the country’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Leading development

China’s technology goals for the next decade are led by its ‘new infrastructure’ initiative, which involves a convergence of 5G, AI, Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain and big data to lead the development of product development, research and development (R&D) and the energy and transportation sectors.

A multinational tech company, Baidu will be a key participant in the new infrastructure plan, accelerating the country’s transformation from existing infrastructure to next-generation, technology-driven infrastructure to facilitate economic growth and social benefits, says Tian Wu, vice president of Baidu.

“Baidu is leading the development of new AI technology infrastructures, including PaddlePaddle [taken from PArallel Distributed Deep LEarning], Baidu Brain, deep learning, intelligent cloud and data centres,” she says. “We are working to promote the deep integration of AI capabilities to accelerate the upgrading of industries including smart manufacturing, smart healthcare, and smart cities.” 

Cultivating talent

As part of its infrastructure plans, Baidu aims to train up to five million AI experts in the next five years, the company said in June 2020. This includes deep learning and AI courses at more than 200 universities, including four of China’s top five universities: Tsinghua University, Peking University, Zhejiang University and Fudan University.

Ms Wu says the company has already trained more than a million AI talents. 

“Baidu has been working closely with enterprises, developers and universities to provide educational resources, training platforms and computing resources to contribute to China’s AI talent cultivation. Baidu has also established a closed-loop AI talent pipeline, providing training courses and AI-specific assessment certification for contests, hackathons and recruitment,” she adds.

Combating the crisis

Baidu has been at the forefront of China’s government usage of AI and advanced computing towards its containment strategy for the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, the company’s “migration big data platform” used AI-powered mapping systems to identify the flow of travel across high-risk areas. 

Another example is its infrared crowd-screening tool at Beijing’s Qinghe Railway station, which can monitor the temperature of 200 passengers a minute. 

“Baidu rolled out a large number of AI products and solutions that have been playing significant roles in the combat against the Covid-19 pandemic. We will continue to speed up intelligent transformation across a variety of industries after the pandemic, as public knowledge and awareness of the AI’s value to the healthcare sector has created opportunities for wide adoption of AI in the broader economy,” says Ms Wu.

AI was described as one of the key technology trends shaping the future of international production and global value chains, according to Unctad’s latest World Investment Report. The coronavirus pandemic and China’s ensuing recovery plans have only increased the prominence of AI further, and Baidu has positioned itself to be a key leader in this trend.

This article first appeared in the August - September edition of fDi Magazine. View a digital edition of the magazine here.