Baidu: Searching for the next big thing

IT IS that rarest of things, an internet-search firm that does not have to worry much about Google. Baidu’s dominance of the market for search-related advertising in China has remained unchallenged since its American counterpart quit the country a few years ago, rather than put up with official censorship. For a while, Baidu simply milked its strong position in its home market. But more recently the shift from computers to smartphones, and thus to searching via apps rather than browsers, has forced the Chinese firm to get serious about innovation. Another factor is its desire to keep up with two other rapidly growing online firms, Alibaba and Tencent.Baidu has been doing a lot of inventing in-house. Its researchers have devised excellent voice-recognition systems for Mandarin, for example. Its mapping app is arguably the best in China. It has invented smart chopsticks that give warnings when food is unsafe to eat. It has its own version of Google’s smart spectacles; and a bicycle that monitors the rider’s vital signs. And Baidu recently opened a research centre in Silicon Valley headed by Andrew Ng, a pioneering researcher in artificial intelligence.Even more intriguing are its investments in outside innovators. In early December the firm put $3m into Pixellot, an Israeli firm making software that enhances online videos. It has also put money into a Finnish firm developing…

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