Baidu's self-driving car unit has had a tough week. Today, the company's leading artificial intelligence (AI) expert, Andrew Ng, announced in an optimistic blog post that he would be leaving the Chinese search engine company to pursue AI research on his own.
This comes right after Ma Jie, Baidu's head of cybersecurity, confirmed that "hackers-for-hire" had attempted to steal the company's trade secrets in a Bloomberg article yesterday. Neither Ng, nor Baidu, make any relation of the cybersecurity threat to the current resignation, but the two seem very timely.
Andrew Ng was hired in 2014 by Baidu to lead a new research lab in Silicon Valley that would pursue the world of artificial intelligence. According to Ng's blog post from Tuesday, he is leaving the company to explore new ways to support the AI community, and bring an "AI-powered society to fruition."
Andrew Ng joined Baidu with a shared goal, to improve life through artificial intelligence. Today, that goal remains strong. Thank you, and all the best on your new chapter!
Ng's resignation also comes after Didi Chuxing, China's top ride-sharing service, opened a lab dedicated to developing AI and self-driving car technology. Didi, valued at $28 billion, has raised over $10 billion from investors. The company also just hired famed car hacker and former Uber employee Charlie Miller for its US lab.
Ng's departure from Baidu also comes right after former Microsoft executive Qi Lu, a noted AI expert, was appointed the company's COO. Lu has packaged the AI technology developed by Ng into products across the board to help propel its mobile business.
The team led by Ng has been using AI to to develop new lines of business. In the last year, the team created an autonomous driving business unit. Ng states that he wants, "all of us to have self-driving cars," and ends his blog post with his wish to free humanity from mental repetition:
I now want AI to free humanity from repetitive mental drudgery, such as driving in traffic. This work cannot be done by any single company—it will be done by the global AI community of researchers and engineers.
According to Yuan Yang at the Financial Times, Baidu will not hire a direct replacement for Ng, but Baidu's Intelligent Driving Group will be consolidating its technology teams as the AI Group, which will be headed by Haifeng Wang, its current vice-president. Wang will report to Lu.
According to Financial Times, Ng had been considering leaving Baidu for some time, and the appointment of Qi made the decision easier.
Ng's leave will be a loss for Baidu, which has pooled a lot of money into AI as its struggled to keep its hold on ad spending since the boom of Chinese consumers started using smartphones. Baidu expects AI and driverless technology to surpass its web productivity. The company also opened an augmented reality lab this year.
As Ng concluded in his blog post:
Just as electricity transformed many industries roughly 100 years ago, AI will also now change nearly every major industry—healthcare, transportation, entertainment, manufacturing—enriching the lives of countless people. I am more excited than ever about where AI can take us.