Baidu launches $200m venture capital unit focused on artificial intelligence

Independently run early-stage investment arm called Baidu Venture

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 September, 2016, 4:21pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 September, 2016, 11:03pm

Baidu Inc, the Chinese internet search giant, has created a US$200 million venture capital unit to invest in artificial intelligence projects.

The new unit, Baidu Venture, is chaired by chief executive Robin Li Yanhong and will focus on projects also in augment reality and virtual reality.

“The first-phase investment is planned at US$200 million and the fund will invest in projects that are at their early stage,” the company said.

The unit will be independently run from Baidu’s existing investment teams, allowing it to make fast decisions without having to go through complicated internal approval process, it added.

Baidu is betting big on AI technology as a fresh income stream amid a slowdown in its search and advertising business.

The company created a deep-learning research institute in 2013, and more recently has been investing about 15 per cent of its revenue in technology research, setting up facilities focused on big data and AI.

At the company’s global conference earlier this month in Beijing, Li said AI would be the single most important development for the global internet sector in future.

It has also announced a partnership with chipmaker Nvidia Corp to develop a self-driving car platform based on an operating system which will include cloud-based 3D maps and the ability to assess different road conditions.

“AI is our opportunity and we’re pretty fortunate the world is coming to this stage,” Li told reporters on the sidelines of the conference, an annual meeting at which Baidu usually reveals its longer-term business plans and insights.

Li also claimed Baidu was enjoying first-mover advantage in AI as it started before other competitors, but analysts and investors say they are eager to learn more details about its technology which may not be mature enough for any meaningly monetisation in the near future.

JP Morgan analysts warned in a note last month that Baidu does not have any visible growth drivers beyond search for the next few years, unless the company can make a breakthrough in high-tech initiatives such as AI.

Baidu earnings fell 34 per cent in the second quarter year on year to 2.41 billion yuan, which the firm blamed on its modest 4 per cent growth in online marketing revenue. Quarterly growth at the same stage last year grew 37 per cent.