Baidu’s Andrew Ng describes China, deep learning, voice recognition, and O2O

Matt Johnson Uncategorized

As one of the leading thinkers and innovators on deep-learning, Andrew Ng of Baidu is very observant and intimately engaged in the latest patterns and trends of human thought, behavior, and innovation.

One pattern he pointed to onstage at GMIC SV this morning was that only within the past few years had data become sophisticated enough to enable deep-learning algorithms, and he saw this trend as particularly exciting for technologies like voice and facial recognition software in the coming years.

And he was ready to demonstrate it as well. He pulled out his phone and demoed Baidu’s new facial recognition app, a playful software that digitally maps the characteristics of one person’s face onto another. The audience laughed as he alternated between a display of his face mixed with the facial features of his wife, to the facial features of a fox, and many others.  

He was very excited about the possibilities of deep-learning and voice recognition, which with current technology only has roughly 95% accuracy. Because of deep-learning data, he believes there will be 99% accuracy in voice recognition, and this will “will be game-changing. You will use it all the time and won’t think about it.”

There was also another theme to his talk. Was China different, and was China adopting certain innovations faster than the rest of the world?


Though he didn’t like the phrase, he admitted that in China “everything is different”. “Even before joining Baidu, I spent a lot of time getting Coursera in China. It took a long time spending time in China to figure out what to do,” he said.

“I think it is difficult to substitute having your leaders spend enough time in China to really understand what happens,” he explained. To Andrew, China’s market has particular characteristics that make it ideal for certain innovations, particularly in the O2O space where there are many efficiencies in terms of connecting online devices to largely cheap and efficient offline services. He pointed to the fact that at the touch of a button in China he could have someone show up at his door within minutes to wash his friend’s car, or food delivered to his door very quickly and cost-effectively, an experience he could not find in the United States.

“The competitive pressures and the culture is so different, so if you don’t understand the context you can’t make effective decisions.” Some companies take off, like Apple and Uber, and others fail miserably. Unless one takes the time to understand the differences or finds local partners, their products will not “smell Chinese”, he said.

There is one other thing that makes China different. They have Andrew Ng.

Matt Johnson is Senior Account Manager at Allegravita LLC, a public relations and strategic communications agency with a focus on the China region.

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