Baidu: Setting Sights Higher

Quick: Name the web search company with Silicon Valley offices that is driving research into neural networks, artificial intelligence, image identification, speech recognition, and self-driving vehicles. No, not Google. Baidu.

Baidu Research, in Sunnyvale, California, is run by Andrew Ng, a former Stanford artificial intelligence guru. Ng pioneered online learning at the university (he once taught a class to 100,000 students), and developed a neural network that can determine whether a video has a cat in it.

That wacky stuff that is the bread and butter of the West, where we swaddle ourselves in goofy memes and celebrity gossip. And now it’s spreading east to China, which has quietly become the country with the largest Internet-using population: with 642 million as of September 2015. The number two country, the US, boasts only 280 million Internet users.

Chinese users rely on web search the same way Western users do, so you might assume that Google China has the same cachet as its US arm. Not so: In China, Google is a near non-entity. Instead, a Chinese user is more likely just to “Baidu it.”

 

Baidu, which got its start in 2000, now controls roughly 56% of search engine volume in China and had nearly $8 billion in revenues last year, but, like Google, it has its sights set much higher. Beyond core web services like a Wikipedia-type service called Baidu Baike, a mobile payment system, cloud storage, online maps, and even an online food ordering and delivery arm, the company is knee-deep in advanced research well beyond the Internet. The core lesson: Innovation in one market may well drive innovation in another.

 

In the multi-part feature with WIRED Brand Lab, we look at Eight Global Brands That Stand for Spectacular Reinvention. Check all eight stories from the series here.

Rahil Arora leads Lenovo’s Customer Stories program