Baidu's self-driving car at an exhibition in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province. Zhu Xingxin / China Daily
Gov't gives firm nod to lead deep learning tech lab
Search engine Baidu Inc will take the lead with the first national lab on deep learning as China strives to rise up the ranks of artificial intelligence research.
The National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic regulator, has appointed Baidu to lead the national lab on deep learning technologies and applications, as Beijing prioritizes AI development through policy and financial support.
The company will team up with China's leading institutions such as Tsinghua University and Beihang University in areas including deep learning, interactive technologies, visual and sensory technologies and standardized services.
Baidu will also share its rich resources on computing, algorithm and big data, which are crucial to beef up fundamental research in AI.
"We will give full support and abundant resources to the lab to ensure the mission is accomplished effectively and in high quality," said Lu Qi, president of Baidu.
Deep learning is a leading algorithm that aims to improve search results and computing tasks by training computers to work more like the human brain, said Wang Guanchun, chief executive officer of Laiye, a Beijing-based AI company that provides personal scheduling services.
The country is betting on the technology to advance high-end manufacturing as it shifts from an export-driven economy to one that is higher up the value chain.
Fueling the trend is a three-year initiative led by the NDRC and the Ministry of Science and Technology to boost the industry through to 2018, in which China aims to achieve make breakthroughs in core AI technologies, stay in line with global standards on fundamental research, and potentially develop a whole set of transformative technologies on the application front.
"AI should be put on the national agenda as it could transform the industrial, service and even the defense sectors. Baidu is in a good position to lead the lab, considering its vast input in the field," said Wang.
Baidu's Institute of Deep Learning set up a Silicon Valley lab in 2013, tapping the region's talent pool, to gain more muscle to compete with global rivals from Apple Inc to Google Inc.
In January it also hired noted AI expert and former Microsoft executive Lu Qi as its new president, overseeing all business functions.
Tan Tieniu, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association for Artificial Intelligence, said more attention should be paid to the most fundamental groundbreaking work, which is largely dominated by US researchers, and that's what a national lab is meant for.
China's AI industry is worth 9.56 billion yuan ($1.38 billion) in 2016, said market research firm Forward Intelligence.