Baidu is a technology company that specializes in internet services and artificial intelligence. Valued at $43.1 billion in October 2020, it’s one of the largest companies in the world and accounts for over 90% of China’s online search queries. It’s also involved in the development of over 310,000 AI models and a novel quantum machine learning development toolkit.
Baidu is China’s biggest tech company. Its name was inspired by a haunting 800-year-old poem called The Green Jade Table in the Lantern Festival and refers to the search for one’s dream amidst chaotic distractions. Rather fitting, since Baidu is the chosen engine for the large majority of people in mainland China — where Google is banned.
Baidu allows for users to connect to information and services and power several popular community-based products such as Postbar (a query-based searchable online community platform), Baidu Knows (an interactive knowledge-sharing platform), and Baidu Encyclopedia (the world’s largest user-generated Chinese-language encyclopedia). The company also offers a myriad of other products such as Maps, Image Search, New Search, Video Search, software, music products, games, and translation services, among many others.
Recently, Baidu has also expanded to cover a multitude of AI-driven projects from its Silicon Valley / Seattle / Beijing research labs. These cover data science, computer vision, quantum computing, robotics, autonomous driving, and machine learning.
Baidu was founded by the son of two factory workers from Yang Quan, Robin Li, who studied computer science at Beijing University and later earned a Master’s degree from the State University of New York. After his graduation, Li joined IDD (a Dow Jones subsidiary) and created RankDex, a site-scoring algorithm.
When Li was invited back to China to celebrate 50 years of the Communist regime, he met biochemist Eric Wu and together they decided to start Baidu. The company was officially founded in 2000 with $1.2 million in funding from Integrity Partners and Peninsula Capital. A $10 million investment from Draper Fisher Jurvetson and IDG Technology Venture followed a few months later.
Originally, Baidu was intended to be a search service to other Chinese portals, however, they decided to launch it as an independent site. Because it allowed companies to bid on space for ads (something Google wasn’t doing yet), it soon began to make a profit. When the company went public in 2005, it opened at $27 a share and closed at $112 a share. In May 2019, its share price reached $284, but, as of October 05, 2020, it had stabilized at $124.70.
Over the past 20 years, Baidu has provided intelligent, relevant search results for tens of billions of queries every day. Although they have tailored their services to Chinese users through the understanding of Chinese language and culture, they have also begun to expand their services to markets such as Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand.
The Search Engine
Baidu’s search engine ranks sites based on their homepage and can only read text. The platform ranks fourth in Alexa ranking of the most popular websites worldwide, above Facebook and Wikipedia, and gives priority to sites written in Mandarin and hosted in China.
Most of Baidu’s first search pages are packed with ads. Their primary advertising product is called Baidu Tuiguang (Baidu Promotion), and is a pay-per-click platform that places ads in search results pages and websites that are part of the Baidu Union. Their Pay-for-Placement platform enables customers to bid for the placement of keywords in search results, while their Search Ranking listings, organized by category, allow users to locate search items on topics of interest. In addition to text input, users can do searches via voice, visuals, and augmented reality.
Baidu also offers services like a missing person search, senior citizen search, and patent search — all of which are specific to Chinese legal requirements.
Other Baidu Projects
Baidu is much more than a search engine or a portfolio of online products. Co-located in Seattle, Silicon Valley, and Beijing, Baidu Research focuses on projects in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Baidu Brain, the company’s core AI technology engine and platform, has been involved in the development of more than 270 core AI capabilities and 310,000 models. This includes a foundation layer for software, hardware, and databases, a perception later for computer vision and AR/VR, and modules for security, safety and privacy.
Badu Brain is behind Kunlun, China’s first cloud-to-edge AI chip, and is currently working on a second version that will be three times more powerful than the already impressive 512 GBps and 260 TOPS. The company has also developed successful end-to-end speech recognition, NLP models, and a quantum machine learning development toolkit that can help scientists build up and train quantum neural network models for advanced computing applications.
The Chinese giant has also partnered with companies like Ford, Intel, Grab and Honda to provide AI technology for autonomous, driverless cars. In September 2020, the company presented their Fully Automated Driving program and 5G Remote Driving Service. Baidu has also been working with FAW Group to jointly develop Hongqi EV robotaxi, the first mass-produced robotaxi in China, which has already deployed unmanned driving tests in multiple cities.