AI pioneer reckons China's where the Rise of the Machines will start

‘More willingness to challenge basic assumptions’

Artificial intelligence pioneer and former head of the Google Brain project, Andrew Ng, has said China's fast-growing internet economy has created the conditions for the best AI research opportunities in the world.

The software guru was poached by Baidu Research from Google last year to become the firm's chief scientist, and is responsible for the company's research organisation, which is split between Beijing and its $300m Californian research lab devoted to AI.

Speaking to El Reg, he said: "The velocity of Chinese internet companies is amazing. The Chinese internet evolved so quickly and I feel like here there is more of a willingness to challenge even basic assumptions."

"That creative destruction and desire to invent the future, I feel that is pervasive throughout the Chinese tech ecosystem."

He added China has been able to leapfrog other countries in terms of its tech developments, with the country's existing tech infrastructure being less of a "chore" to navigate.

Ng is a pioneer in the field of deep learning AI technology. In 2012 his Google Brain programme had a breakthrough when 16,000 linked computers dedicated to mimicking some aspects of human brain activity trained itself to recognize a cat based on 10 million digital images taken from YouTube videos.

Ng believes that Baidu has now become one of leading forces in promoting deep learning technology, adding that in many ways "Baidu is ahead of game in leading tech".

After a break from the field of AI, Ng decided he wanted to return, and after "looking around to find the organisation with the best shot at making progress on AI, I decided to join Baidu".

"AI is increasingly capital intensive, you need data and you need compute power, and Baidu is one of relatively few companies with fantastic access to both. Second was the talent, up and down the organisation Baidu is packed with AI knowledge."

Other companies with access to a lot of data and compute power include Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Amazon, he said. "They are all great companies, but I wanted to work at Baidu."

Ng is currently working on speech recognition technology to improve accuracy from 95 per cent to 99 per cent, a move he believes would be a "game changer".

"I am very excited about the potential of AI to help a lot of people and the potential to get that into the hands of hundreds of millions of people. I honestly don't think there is a better place to do that in the world right now than Baidu," he said. ®

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