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Baidu seeks to collaborate with Indian educational institutes on AI

Rivals ByteDance, Tencent, and Alibaba have been gaining prominence in India since the last few years.

China’s largest search engine Baidu, following the footsteps of its homegrown rivals internet giants such as ByteDance, Alibaba, and Tencent, is finally going to make a move in India, the world’s second-most populous country.

Baidu is seeking partnership with local institutions in the field of artificial intelligence, Robin Li, the 51-year old billionaire founder of Baidu, who is on his maiden visit to the country, said during his address at Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.

“India is one of the fastest-growing smartphone markets in the world, and India is also a very large developing country right next to China,” Li said on Saturday at IIT-Madras. “We’ve seen fast growth for both countries over the past few decades. And, I think, for the next decade, there will be more opportunities for us.”

India has become a particular interest to Chinese tech giants due to the ongoing US-China trade war. With about 450 million smartphone users and as many internet users, India is the largest potential market for global technology companies, which are pinning their hopes on the next billion users from the country for the next phase of growth.

While big-wigs like Alibaba, Tencent, ByteDance, Xiaomi, and BBK Electronics have already set up a strong base in India, Baidu is just starting off by looking to collaborate with academia.

Alibaba has made investments in Indian unicorns like payments company Paytm, food delivery platform Zomato, and hyperlocal startup Bigbasket, apart from operating its cloud services in the country. ByteDance has hooked on over 200 million Indians through its short video app TikTok, and vernacular social media apps Helo and Vigo. Meanwhile, Tencent has made bets on food tech giant Swiggy, ride-hailing company Ola, fantasy sports company Dream 11, neo banking startup Niyo, and digital ledger company Khatabook, among others, apart from running popular games such as PubG and Call of Duty.

Li’s visit to India comes at a time when Baidu has posted losses for the first time since going public about 15 years ago. For the first and third quarters of 2019, the Chinese giant made net losses of USD 49 million and USD 892 million, respectively.

Founded in 2000 by Li, Baidu is the world’s second-largest search engine after Google. It has made China one of the four countries globally to possess its own core search technology. The other three include the US, Russia, and South Korea. Baidu is also the largest AI platform company in China.

Over the years, Baidu has diversified into areas such as short video apps, video streaming, and autonomous cars. However, it has so far stayed clear of India, except for the Facemoji keyboard that it launched in the country in mid-2018, and video streaming service iQiyi, which it has made quietly accessible to Indian users.

In his address to aspiring techies, Li said that the previous decade was that of the Internet but the coming decade is that of the intelligent economy with new modes of human-machine interaction, adding that he sees AI transforming a lot of industries such as customer service, education, transport, and drug discovery.

“Going forward, we are entering a new age, the age of AI… if we can see [how] the internet changed the way we consume, or the way we entertain ourselves, the intelligent economy will change the way we produce. It will significantly improve productivity for humans,” he said.