Having been Chief Scientist at Baidu for almost 3 years, Andrew Ng now plans to leave. He hasn't made his future plans explicit, other than to continue working in AI and to "keep working hard to get AI to help everyone".
We tend to carry news of language updates than career moves but this is the second time we have reported that Andrew Ng is steering his course in a new direction. It was in May 2014 that we covered his move from Google to Baidu, where he was to oversee the work of three research labs under the umbrella of Baidu Research: the Beijing Deep Learning Lab (formerly known as the Institute of Deep Learning); the Beijing Big Data Lab and the newly founded Silicon Valley AI Lab.
My comment then was:
Ng has the obvious track record to take on this role. Born in the UK and having studied Computer Science in the USA, at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) as an undergraduate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for his masters degree and at the University of California, Berkeley for his PhD, he is Chinese by nationality.
Now at the age of 40 Andrew Ng has a most impressive CV. As well as his work with Baidu and Google, he is adjunct professor (formerly associate professor) at Stanford University and the co-founder and chairman of Coursera, where his own MOOC on Machine Learning still runs and has the distinction of having the Class Central Course Rank #1 in both Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science based on student reviews and being high, currently #2 in the league table of the Top 50 MOOCs Ever. in terms of numbers of enrolled students.
Andrew Ng broke news of his imminent departure from Baidu on Twitter referring those interested to a longer explanation on Medium.
In the Medium article, he states that since he joined Baidu the company's AI group has grown to roughly 1,300 people including 300 in Baidu Research. To highlight the success of his 3-year tenure of his appointment he writes:
Our AI software is used every day by hundreds of millions of people. We have had tremendous revenue and product impact, through the many dozens of AI projects that support our existing businesses in search, advertising, maps, take-out delivery, voice search, security, consumer finance and many more.
We have also used AI to develop new lines of business. My team birthed one new business unit per year each of the last two years: autonomous driving and the DuerOS Conversational Computing platform. We are also incubating additional promising technologies, such as face-recognition (used in turnstiles that open automatically when an authorized person approaches), Melody (an AI-powered conversational bot for healthcare) and several more. As the principal architect of Baidu’s AI strategy, I am proud to have led the incredible rise of AI within the company.
Having claimed these personal achievements he also acknowledges:
Robin Li was the first large company CEO to clearly see the value of deep learning, and remains globally one of the best AI CEOs.
He also refers to three recent appointments at Baidu:
COO Lu Qi is a seasoned business executive with significant experience in AI; with his leadership, AI at Baidu will flourish. Wang Haifeng, the new head of the AI Group, is a fantastic researcher and technology leader; his leadership firmly positions the team for future greatness. Lin Yuanqing, our newly appointed head of Baidu Research, is a brilliant technology and business leader, who is creating both great AI technologies and great business results.
Whether this emphasis on business and technology has prompted Ng's unexpected departure is only speculation but his personal statement suggests that Ng wants to concentrate on AI's potential for bringing about the betterment of mankind with the top highlight of his medium article being:
Just as electricity transformed many industries roughly 100 years ago, AI will also now change nearly every major industry — healthcare, transportation, entertainment, manufacturing — enriching the lives of countless people. I am more excited than ever about where AI can take us.
The subsequent paragraphs emphasize the twin ideas of "AI to improve society" and "the democratization of AI".
As the founding lead of the Google Brain project, and more recently through my role at Baidu, I have played a role in the transformation of two leading technology companies into “AI companies.” But AI’s potential is far bigger than its impact on technology companies.
I will continue my work to shepherd in this important societal change. In addition to transforming large companies to use AI, there are also rich opportunities for entrepreneurship as well as further AI research. I want all of us to have self-driving cars; conversational computers that we can talk to naturally; and healthcare robots that understand what ails us. The industrial revolution freed humanity from much repetitive physical drudgery; I now want AI to free humanity from repetitive mental drudgery, such as driving in traffic. This work cannot be done by any single company — it will be done by the global AI community of researchers and engineers. My Machine Learning MOOC on Coursera helped many people enter AI. In addition to working on AI myself, I will also explore new ways to support all of you in the global AI community, so that we can all work together to bring this AI-powered society to fruition.
I am more optimistic than ever about the fantastic future we will build with AI. Lets keep working hard to get AI to help everyone!
Baidu also used social media to respond to the news posting on its official Weibo account, China’s answer to Twitter:
“Andrew joined Baidu because of our shared pursuit for the future of AI. We still have this goal, which is to push forward the development of AI and make life in the future more beautiful. Despite our regrets, we send our thanks and blessings! We wish Andrew even greater success in the future, and hope all goes well!”
Twitter is also the source of another reaction to Ng's resignation, namely a sharp fall in Baidu's share price on the Nasdaq:
It will be interesting to see where Ng chooses to go next. He is bound to get plenty of offers and can no doubt afford to be choosey about where to devote his efforts.
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