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Baidu muscles in on Google’s turf with Silicon Valley deep learning lab

Chinese search giant beds down next to Apple in Cupertino

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Chinese search giant Baidu has opened the doors to a new research facility in Google’s back yard where it’s hoping to tap the local talent to consolidate early mover advantage in the burgeoning field of “deep learning”.

The Cupertino-based Institute of Deep Learning (IDL) is the Silicon Valley counterpart of another facility back in China dedicated to accelerating research in the emerging machine learning-related discipline.

The Santa Clara County city was an obvious choice for the search giant as it has had a US office there for around a year.

Kai Yu, Baidu’s director of multimedia, has been in Cupertino to hire the lab’s first researcher and told Wired: “We have a really big dream of using deep learning to simulate the functionality, the power, the intelligence of the human brain.”

That technology has already helped Baidu launch a voice-activated search service last year and researchers in Yu’s team are also apparently working on Google Glass competitor Baidu Eye.

Baidu CEO Robin Li announced the US-based IDL back in January, revealing an ambitious hope that it will in time become one of the world’s top research institutions, on a par with AT&T’s Bell Labs and Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Centre.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether Baidu can emulate the feats of these two famous facilities, which pioneered the development of mobile phone and GUI technology, respectively, although with over 70 per cent of the huge Chinese search market, it’s certainly not short of a bob or two to invest in the project.

Baidu’s decision to set up a Stateside outpost for the IDL could be viewed as an admission that it still can’t source all the talent it needs from back home – at least not yet.

“In Silicon Valley, you have access to a huge talent pool of really, really top engineers and scientists, and Google is enjoying that kind of advantage,” Yu told Wired.

Indeed, Google has already stated its intent to lead innovation in the deep learning space with the hire of Geoffrey Hinton, widely regarded as a pioneer in the field.

Baidu had no further comment to share with El Reg on the Cupertino IDL at this stage. ®

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