China’s biggest search engine Baidu is optimistic about its investments in artificial intelligence (AI) despite the company’s recent financial troubles and increasing competition from domestic competitors.

Why it matters: Baidu has had a rollercoaster of a year, including seeing its share price fall by 36% year to date. The company posted its first quarterly loss in the second quarter since it went public in the US in 2005.

  • In January, Baidu CEO Robin Li warned that “winter is coming” referring to the troubles from a slowing economy and the fallout from a prolonged US-China trade war. The company has since implemented a number of cost-cutting measures in an attempt to mitigate risks to its business.
  • Nonetheless, Baidu is pushing forward with its AI ambitions, including its costly autonomous driving program after launching a robotaxi pilot in central China.

“Artificial intelligence will not destroy human beings but will give people eternal life… Everything every person has said and done, even people’s memories, emotions and consciousness can be digitally stored on network disks or the cloud. Machines can learn people’s way of thinking.”

—Li as cited in the South China Morning Post

Details: Li was speaking at the plenary session of the World Internet Conference in the eastern Chinese city of Wuzhen on Sunday. He believes that AI will bring revolutionary changes to how humans and machines interact and act as a force for good.

  • The CEO said he is optimistic about AI’s effects on society, explaining that he expects the technology to improve people’s lives.
  • Li said that Baidu’s robotaxi initiative in the central Chinese city of Changsha not only serves to develop the autonomous driving industry but also forces the transport infrastructure as a whole to upgrade, the SCMP reported.

Bytedance takes on Baidu with investment in Wikipedia-like Hudong Baike

Context: In 2017, the State Council, China’s cabinet, set out goals aimed at making the country a world leader in AI by 2030. Baidu was later named one of China’s “AI Champions” for its autonomous driving efforts.

  • The company has made increasing efforts to pivot toward enterprise solutions, including cloud computing and AI, as competition in the consumer market increases.
  • Baidu recently invested around $200 million in Neusoft Holdings in a move that could help the company scale its AI offering.
  • Tencent and Bytedance pose a serious threat to Baidu in competition for revenue as advertisers tighten their belts.
  • Bytedance this year launched a search engine and invested in Wikipedia clone Hudong Baike, a competitor to Baidu’s online encyclopedia, moving further onto the search giant’s turf.

Christopher Udemans is TechNode's former Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covered Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, cleantech, and cybersecurity.

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