Baidu, China’s dominant Internet search engine operator, is losing its most valuable human asset. Andrew Ng, a leading expert in the artificial intelligence (AI) world, is resigning from the tech giant after serving three years as its chief scientist.
Ng published an open letter on Medium on Wednesday to announce his departure, and stressed that he is not halting his work in the AI arena after leaving Baidu. “I will continue my work to shepherd in this important societal change,” he wrote.
As a leading figure in AI research, Ng joined Baidu in 2014 after Coursera, a Mass Open Online Course (MOOC) platform he co-founded. He was also the founding leader of the Google Brain project, which developed and applied new deep-learning techniques at the American tech company.
Under his leadership at Baidu, the tech firm saw a massive boost in its AI-related product development where Ng helped to form an AI-first strategy. Leading a team of more than 1,300 researchers and engineers, Ng made significant advances in all kinds of AI-driven products, making Baidu a company with world-class expertise in major AI areas such as speech, neurolinguistic programming (NLP), computer vision, machine learning and knowledge graphs.
Ng’s departure might seem to be a major shakeup for Baidu, but with all the legacies he left behind, the Chinese tech giant is likely to flourish and lead the AI industry with flying colors.
The company is now leveraging its AI techniques in banking, healthcare and call-center support, while it will continue to run the Baidu Institute of Deep Learning and Baidu Brain project that Ng helped to develop.
Baidu has recently hired Qi Lu, the former Microsoft global executive vice-president, as its new chief operating officer to cushion Ng’s departure.
Where would Andrew move next?
Ng’s departure has got everyone talking, and one of the hottest topics is what he is going to do next.
As a passionate educator, Ng opened an extremely popular course on Coursera, where he taught machine learning. He is also an adjunct professor in Computer Science at Stanford University. So it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he decides to go back to academia.
Another option he has is to join the business that his wife, Carol Reiley, started. Reiley is the co-founder and president of drive.ai, a Silicon Valley startup that creates AI deep-learning software for autonomous vehicles. The company’s founding members include former lab mates from Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. The startup is seemingly a good fit for Ng, but he could also easily start his own company – thanks to his rich experience in co-founding Coursera and leading the AI teams at Google and Baidu.
Ng told MIT Technology Review that he plans to take some time off looking beyond the transformation of tech companies. Also in Ng’s Medium post, he gave out some similar hints.
“In addition to transforming large companies to use AI, there are also rich opportunities for entrepreneurship as well as further AI research,” he wrote on his Medium post. “I want all of us to have self-driving cars; conversational computers that we can talk to naturally; and healthcare robots that understand what ails us.”
As an influential artificial intelligence expert who has been outspoken about AI-related job displacement, Ng is believed to continue being the frontrunner in the AI arena no matter where he is.
(Top photo from Baidu images)