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Signaling the types of alliances that will soon become commonplace thanks to evolving AI and wireless technologies, Chinese search giant Baidu and mobile company China Mobile today announced a comprehensive partnership to collaborate on AI, 5G, and big data — “frontier areas” where each company’s strengths will be necessary to move forward.

Initially, the companies will offer first-of-kind cellular discounts for use of Baidu services, including special China Mobile data plans specifically for 13 Baidu products, including the Netflix-like iQiyi video service, Baidu’s own app, and Baidu PostBar. On the AI front, they will collaborate on image recognition, voice recognition, and natural language processing to leverage AI in telecommunications applications, using Baidu’s algorithms across China Mobile’s networks and services, as well as in future intelligent devices and connected homes.

A major component of the collaboration is co-development of an autonomous car platform, which is expected to rely heavily on upcoming 5G cellular technology. Baidu already has an open platform called Apollo, which it’s positioning as “the Android of autonomous driving,” with over 100 partners ranging from startups to OEMs and Tier-1 suppliers. Going forward, China Mobile will join the platform to assist with both service development and market building for mobile-connected cars, while Baidu aims to incorporate its conversational AI-focused DuerOS into cellular-equipped vehicles.

“AI is rapidly being integrated into all facets of life,” said Baidu CEO Robin Li, “bringing innumerable new opportunities for the development of the industry. The combination of AI and telecommunications has huge room for innovation and will create more new experiences for users.”

While the Baidu-China Mobile deal might be of only regional importance now, it foreshadows partnerships that will likely take place over the next five years between 5G wireless and machine learning companies across the globe. Self-driving cars in particular will depend upon tight partnerships between automobile makers, AI technology companies, and mobile network operators. Though many leading players across these industries are based in the U.S., South Korea, and Europe, Chinese companies — sponsored by the government — are working to enlarge their footprints.

Baidu has publicized plans to get “everyone on this planet” to use its AI systems, launching billion-dollar investment funds for technology generally and autonomous cars specifically. But the company has also lost several key AI executives over the past year for different reasons.


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