AI can reduce mining accidents, not just recommend music, says Baidu chief

AI benefits not limited to consumer market, can also deliver productivity improvements in business operations

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 December, 2017, 12:42pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 December, 2017, 10:06pm

From increasing profits for supermarkets to reducing accident rates at mining sites, artificial intelligence (AI) is set to play a bigger role in upgrading business operations in China, according to the CEO of one of China’s biggest investors in the technology.

AI should not be limited to the consumer market but can also improve business operations, especially for manufacturers and suppliers, said Robin Li Yanhong, chief executive of Baidu.

In a keynote speech at China’s annual World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, Li gave the example of Baidu’s cooperation with a seafood supermarket, where AI has been used to reduce waste by 30 per cent and improve profitability by 20 per cent.

The mining industry, which already has accumulated large amounts of data, can significantly reduce accident rates by adopting AI, he added.

AI-related technology is expected to boost global economic output by 14 per cent by 2030, with China seeing an estimated 26 per cent boost to its economy by that time, PwC said in a report in June. Beijing has laid out goals to make the country an innovation centre for AI technology by 2030.

The adoption of AI across more business sectors is expected to accelerate Baidu’s own growth after the Beijing-based company bet big on the technology to turn around its operations after being hit by a regulatory scandal in 2016.

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So far Baidu’s efforts mainly focus on the adoption of AI in consumer markets. It has teamed up with 70 partners worldwide to mass produce autonomous cars as early as July 2018, and in November it unveiled an Amazon Echo-style speaker to allow consumers to control devices at homes via voice requests.

However, Li noted the challenges that apply to using AI for businesses’ clients. “The data research, analysis and applications are far from being fully exploited in the business market despite the fact that data is collected with different sensors by different manufacturers,” he said.

Li said Baidu is also devoted to building smart cities with world-leading transportation in Xiongan and Baoding in Hebei province, as well as the bigger cities of Chongqing, Beijing and Shanghai.

The company is expected to unveil more details regarding smart city development in 2018, he said.

Local city governments in China could be another opportunity for Baidu in the business AI market. In July, the company signed an agreement with the government of Shanxi province to adopt AI as part of an urban management system.