Company / division: Baidu
Baidu Announces v1.5 of its Autonomous Platform and $1.5bn Fund to Invest in Projects (Sep 21, 2017)
Baidu has announced version 1.5 of its Apollo autonomous driving platform with several new features and also announced a $1.5 billion (10 billion yuan) fund to invest in 100 autonomous driving “projects” over the next three years. All the detail in the press release is around the platform, the traction it’s gained, and the new features, which include obstacle perception, planning, cloud simulation, high-definition (HD) maps and
“end-to-end deep learning” capabilities. When the platform first launched, it sounded impressive on paper but in practical terms appeared to be rather piecemeal and unfinished, with many necessary components missing. The new features certainly fill some gaps but don’t supply all the missing pieces, and it’s likely that the platform still isn’t really ready for prime time deployment, especially outside of China where Baidu doesn’t have granular mapping data. The fund, meanwhile, is not detailed at all in Baidu’s release and it’s really not clear whether it will be a venture capital-style fund for investing in companies, or whether it will be more in the nature of grants supplied to companies using Baidu’s technology in some way. Either way, it’s a significant chunk of money in what’s already a very crowded and high-spending field.
Baidu Q2 Results Rebound Significantly From Recent Weakness (Jul 28, 2017)
Netflix Agrees to License Content to Baidu Subsidiary iQIYI (Apr 25, 2017)
This is a fascinating piece, and well worth a read if you’re interested in the Chinese tech market. It’s a market I follow less closely, but I was struck by Baidu’s recent decline in fortunes and Alibaba’s rapid rise in the ad business when I was doing research for a recent piece on global ad revenue leaders. Baidu has always been referred to as the Chinese Google, and although that’s a horrible oversimplification, it’s hard to avoid the sense in reading this article that part of its trouble stems from pursuing many of the same areas and strategies as Google but with less success. Even the resentment among the successful search advertising employees of higher profile but non revenue generating businesses is reminiscent of the situation at Alphabet, though the latter has been reining in some of its excesses lately. Even outside the Chinese, context, though, this is a good cautionary tale on how quickly seemingly indomitable Internet companies can see their fortunes turn south.
via The Information
A.I. Expert at Baidu, Andrew Ng, Resigns From Chinese Search Giant – The New York Times (Mar 22, 2017)
This story is notable for two reasons. Firstly, Baidu especially and Chinese companies in general are often overlooked completely in discussions of who’s making big investments in AI and machine learning, and yet Baidu has made massive investments in this area, and recently hired former Microsoft exec Qi Lu to be its COO and to oversee its AI efforts. Secondly, despite Qi Lu’s recent arrival, the trend of former Silicon Valley execs joining big Chinese tech companies still has fewer long-term success stories than short-term fizzles, as this article points out. Both Hugo Barra and Andrew Ng’s move to Chinese companies were seen as highly symbolic, and as such it’s inevitable that their departures should be too. The big Chinese companies are doing good work, and in some cases pioneering new product and service categories, across a number of different areas, but attracting and keeping high-profile talent from the US (even those with ties to Greater China – Ng was born in the UK to parents from Hong Kong) remains tough.
via New York Times
Qi Lu was very well respected at Microsoft and throughout the industry, and many were sad to see him step down from his role there due to health reasons a few months back. Now, he’s shown up at Baidu, the Chinese search engine, both to run much of the business but also apparently to spearhead a big push into AI. Given Google’s prominent role in pushing the boundaries of AI here in the US, it’s interesting to see its Chinese counterpart so far behind, and it makes sense that it wants to catch up. A single hire at the top (and one who will be very busy with other things) won’t get them there, but it can certainly demonstrate that Baidu is taking this initiative seriously, and help hire more of the best to assist in the work. The fact that he brings both significant US business and technology experience and Chinese nationality to bear on the role will also help bridge some of the gaps that might otherwise exist.
If you live in the US, it’s easy to forget that it’s one of only three countries where Echo is available, along with the UK and Germany. For all the many integrations Alexa is seeing this week at CES, there are many markets Amazon isn’t addressing directly, and China is the biggest. There will therefore be opportunities for other players in the same space in other countries, and Baidu is an obvious candidate in its domestic market.
This is a great overview of some of the significant investments the four major Chinese Internet companies have made in the US over the past few years. A few things stand out: Tencent has invested significantly more than the others, both in dollar terms and in the number of individual investments; California has received 79% of the total investments made, with most other states only capturing a small number of deals or none at all; investments appear to have peaked in 2016 and dropped in 2015 (though this analysis doesn’t capture the whole of 2016). A lot of the investments are in tiny companies you’ve never heard of, but there are some exceptions: Alibaba and Tencent in Lyft and Snap; Alibaba in ShopRunner, MagicLeap, and Jet.com; Baidu in Uber; and Tencent in Cyanogen. Most of these are small minority investments, but the overall number is significant – the big Chinese companies have been far more able and willing to invest in US properties than vice versa.
via CB Insights