Baidu hires former Google artificial intelligence chief

SAN FRANCISCO Sat May 17, 2014 5:15am IST

People talk in front of a Baidu's company logo at Baidu's headquarters in Beijing January 16, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee/Files

People talk in front of a Baidu's company logo at Baidu's headquarters in Beijing January 16, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee/Files

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - China's top search engine Baidu Inc has hired Google Inc's former artificial intelligence (AI) chief Andrew Ng to spearhead research in a field that promises to show Internet companies how to maximize use of their vast data trove.

Baidu said Friday it has opened a new AI lab in Silicon Valley to complement its Deep Learning Lab and Big Data Lab in Beijing, both of which will also be headed by Ng.

The news was announced at Baidu's newly opened research complex in Sunnyvale, California, located near the Mountain View headquarters of Google, where Ng had founded and led an elite Deep Learning team in 2011.

Deep Learning refers to research that enables machines to simulate brain functions and process massive amounts of data.

Companies including Google, Facebook Inc and Microsoft Corp have pursued artificial intelligence to analyze the data they collect and improve computers' ability to recognize faces, objects or learn languages.

Google, the U.S. Web search leader, has deemed AI research one of its own top priorities and spent $400 million in January to acquire a major British AI firm.

A former Stanford University computer science professor, Ng co-founded Coursera, an online learning startup, after he left Google.

On Friday Baidu Chief Executive Robin Li hailed Ng as the "ideal individual to lead our research efforts as we enter an era where AI plays an increasingly pronounced role."

Baidu is just one of several Chinese Internet companies that have ramped up their hiring and acquisitions in Silicon Valley to compete toe-to-toe with the U.S. technology leaders.

Ng's project at Google attracted international attention in 2012 when its "neural network" of 16,000 computers, nicknamed the Google Brain, taught itself how to spot a cat after processing thousands of images of cats. Ng said his algorithms were based on theories of how the human brain learns.

(Reporting by Gerry Shih; Editing by Richard Chang)

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