Just as researchers at Google and Microsoft have been experimenting with ways to make their fleets of computer servers draw conclusions less mechanically and more like human brains, Chinese search giant Baidu wants to do that, too.
Today, it revealed a big hire to make inroads in that direction: deep learning.
Andrew Ng, founder of Google’s deep-learning project, director of Stanford’s artificial intelligence lab, and a co-founder of massively open online course (MOOC) provider Coursera, is now Baidu’s chief scientist and the head of Baidu Research, according to a statement Baidu released today.
Baidu has sought to provide smarter uses of data to provide more intuitive experiences to consumers of its search engine and other services, and last year it opened the Institute of Deep Learning in Cupertino, Calif.
In bringing on Ng, Baidu is stealing a luminary from a major competitor, Google. That means Baidu could attract people who like working with Ng or who want to. It also could mean Ng’s latest ideas won’t go to Google. Instead, Baidu could be the one to implement them.
In addition to search giants, many web companies believe in the powers of deep learning algorithms, which can help identify things in photographs based on input from lots of other photographs, recognize words in speech, figure out musical genres, and even improve language translation.
Pinterest acquired VisualGraph, and Pinterest users could come across more stuff they like because of the deal. Netflix is constructing artificial neural networks in Amazon’s public cloud, which could result in better video recommendations.
Last year Facebook formed an artificial-intelligence group, and it brought on hotshot Yann LeCun from New York University’s Center for Data Science as its director of artificial intelligence research.
Startups even see opportunities in supplying special hardware for deep learning.
It’s not clear how much deep learning can bolster revenues for companies like Baidu — we will be calling out technologies for analyzing data and thereby fostering growth at our DataBeat conference in San Francisco on Monday and Tuesday — but it could help Baidu keep its edge in search and other domains. And Ng’s involvement should speed things up.