Baidu Inc., China’s largest search engine, has kicked off its new research initiative with a hiring spree, and this has resulted in a huge personnel acquisition by the company. The Baidu Research Initiative, which is expected to have labs in both Beijing and California, will lead Baidu to hire 150 to 200 people by the end of 2015, and has led Baidu to hire Andrew Ng, the former Artificial Intelligence Chief at Google Inc. Ng, who has worked as a professor at Stanford, is perhaps most famous for his Google Brain team, which was able to teach 16,000 computers to recognize videos of cats simply by watching YouTube videos. Ng is also the founder of Coursera, a massive-open-online-course company which currently offers about 600 free courses, and which has over 7 million registered students.
The new research initiative launched by Baidu is focused on the field of “deep learning,” which involves setting up computers to mimic neural networks in order to process huge amounts of data. According to Bruno Olshausen, the director of the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at the University of California, has said that Ng is among the foremost experts in this field, and predicted that he would continue to lead in it during his time at Baidu. This important role that Ng could play in Baidu’s research initiative has been recognized by Robin Li, Baidu’s chief executive, who hailed Ng as the ideal individual to lead the research effort.
The field of deep learning has become more and more interesting to internet giants, such as Google and Baidu, due to its applications in fields such as speech recognition, advertisement matching and object identification. The importance of these applications for a company such as Baidu explains why the Chinese internet giant kicked off its hiring spree with the acquisition of such a huge figure in the field as Ng. Baidu has said that it plans to invest approximately $300 million in its deep learning research initiative over the next five years, likely in an effort to keep pace with the other internet giants. For example, Microsoft claims to have more than 65 PhD-level researchers working in the field of deep learning, whereas Google recently bought DeepMind, a London based startup focused mainly on research into artificial intelligence, for $500 million. Even Facebook has gotten into the artificial intelligence game, hiring Yann LeCun, a deep learning professor, in an attempt to improve its own research team.
Geoff Hinton, a Google employee who used to work closely with Andrew Ng, has said that one of Ng’s main focuses was on creating computers capable of unsupervised learning. Yoshua Bengio, a deep learning expert from the University of Montreal, agrees that one of the main focuses of deep learning is the attempt to create computers capable of learning without supervision. This would allow computers to search through the tons of unlabeled data that clutters the internet, which would take exorbitant sums of money to catalog. Wired.com has reported that Ng, the first huge acquisition of Baidu’s new hiring spree, is set to kick off Baidu’s research into this specific question in the field of deep learning.
By Nicholas Grabe