“AI is also about love,” quipped Robin Li, billionaire Co-founder and CEO of Chinese internet technology company Baidu, Inc. The Chinese character for love (爱) is spelled “ài” when Romanized, allowing a pun on artificial intelligence (AI).
Li’s remark came during the Baidu World 2021 conference in Beijing on Wednesday, during which the leading tech firm revealed the progress it has made of late in applying AI to a range of fields including autonomous transport, smart home appliances and computer chips.
Li unveiled Baidu’s first fully autonomous robocar to kick off the day’s proceedings, a futuristic contraption featuring a glass roof and no pedals or steering wheel, controlled by voice commands and interior touch display. The firm claims that while their prototype could represent the future of the automotive industry, the present challenge lies in the large-scale commercialization and implementation of such ambitious models.
Already in operation, however, is the Baidu Apollo autonomous taxi scheme, which as of the end of Q2 2021 has completed more than 400,000 rides across the selected cities of Beijing, Guangzhou, Changsha and Cangzhou during its first two years of service.
Zhenyu Li, Senior Corporate Vice President of Baidu and GM of the firm’s Intelligent Driving Group, said at the Wednesday conference that “competence in autonomous driving has become the main battleground in the competition among intelligent vehicles.”
Also revealed at the event was the company’s recent developments in the field of smart appliances, including a home display with voice assistance, the Xiaodu Smart UHD TV V86, noise cancelling headphones and a scanning dictionary pen.
“The [Covid-19] pandemic has greatly changed the lives of families, altering their living habits greatly,” said Corporate Vice President of Baidu Jing Kun at a press conference, adding that “more and more new needs are starting to emerge from the household environment. There will also be some new devices in the home to meet user needs.”
Another key moment at the Wednesday event was the announcement that Baidu’s latest AI-powered computer chip has now entered mass production. The 7nm Kunlun II chip is reportedly two to three times more powerful than the previous generation and boasts a maximum power consumption of 120w.
Given the ongoing global semiconductor shortage, many leading Chinese tech firms have ramped up efforts to develop the vital asset themselves, spurred on by domestic authorities keen to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign chip manufacturers.
Making a guest appearance at Baidu World 2021 was Chairperson of the Chinese Diving Association Jihong Zhou, who recently returned from coaching the national team at the Tokyo Olympics. Speaking to the live CCTV broadcast from her hotel room where she is currently in quarantine, Zhou discussed her athletes’ use of Baidu’s “3D + AI” training system, which uses cloud technology to analyze diving performance and help competitors improve their form.
Among the more entertaining segments of the conference was the introduction of the AI Zhurong Mars rover, an interactive digital rendering of China’s first spacecraft to successfully land on another planet. The virtual robot has big round eyes, solar panel wings and can carry on near-fluent conversations with humans.
In discussing the company’s position within the global technology industry, Corporate Vice President of Baidu Jing Kun asserted that in the future interoperability will be key, as other leading tech firms including Apple, Amazon and Google all develop competing product lines, especially in the field of smart appliances.
“I also hope to be interconnected. I don’t want to have islands,” Jing said. “The development of the enterprise cannot defy the fundamental needs of users…The whole world is opening up.” The executive’s remarks indicate that Baidu plans to take a proactive role in the competition to establish industry standards for the next generation of AI-powered products.
Founded in Beijing’s tech hub district of Haidian in 2000, Baidu’s operations were initially rooted in its online search engine, which remains the second biggest in the world and biggest in China, where it enjoys a market share of nearly 80%.
Since then, the firm has grown to become one of the world’s leading innovators in the field of AI, applying the technology to a diverse range of products. Baidu shares are currently traded on the Nasdaq, and the company holds a market capitalization of $50.55 billion.
The firm contends that its fundamentally curious and youthful spirit has helped drive its progress in bringing AI technology to all facets of daily life.
Speaking of this core business philosophy, Jing said, “we redefine youth. In our team, we say that if we meet the following three requirements, we are young: One is to be curious about the world, the other is to be passionate about society, and the third is to be willing to try new things, regardless of biological age.”