Baidu’s chief scientist, who led its AI research, is leaving the company

Chinese internet giant Baidu is losing the head of its data and artificial intelligence (AI) research division.

Andrew Ng, the company’s chief scientist, announced his departure today three years after he joined Baidu to oversee its foray into deep learning technology. Ng is recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities on AI, and he helped start Google’s deep learning initiative. He led Baidu’s research division in California, which features specific labs for big data, machine learning and a recently announced branch out into AR.

“I joined Baidu in 2014 to work on AI. Since then, Baidu’s AI group has grown to roughly 1,300 people, which includes the 300-person Baidu Research. Our AI software is used every day by hundreds of millions of people,” Ng wrote on Medium.

“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,” he added.

Ng paid tribute to Baidu CEO Robin Li who, he said, was “the first large company CEO to clearly see the value of deep learning.”

Ng led the effort, but Baidu has since doubled down on AI with a host of appointments and moves. Baidu recently appointed former Microsoft executive Qi Lu, a noted AI expert, as its COO, and it has packaged the AI technology developed by Ng and his team into its products across the board. That’s helped propel its mobile business, and offset its reliance on the web, where its search engine is the dominant force in China.

Ng, who is also a co-founder of online learning service Coursera and an adjunct professor at Stanford, didn’t reveal what his next move would be.

“I will continue my work to shepherd in this important societal change… 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,” he said somewhat cryptically.

Interestingly, Ng’s announcement comes weeks after Didi Chuxing, China’s top ride-sharing service, opened a Mountain View-based lab dedicated to developing AI and self-driving car technology.

Didi, which is valued at $28 billion and has raised over $10 billion from investors, recently snagged high-profile Uber employee Charlie Miller for its U.S. lab, and it would surely be interested in bringing Ng aboard were it able to.

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