Baidu CEO: Chinese consumers favor efficiency at the expense of privacy

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On March 26, at the annual session of China Development Forum (CDF) 2018 in the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Robin Li, Baidu’s chairman and CEO, spoke in the session called “Navigating future development through innovation: insights from business leaders.”

He said:

  • 1. 500 people die every day from car accidents, but the public is not concerned about it. However, the whole world is concerned about Uber when it experiences just one accident.
  • 2. Under the premise of privacy protection, Chinese consumers are often willing to authorize the use of certain personal data in exchange for more convenient services.
  • 3. Baidu has invested more than 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) in research and development. Baidu will continue to invest in AI. Talents are very expensive, but the Chinese technology giant is willing to invest in them.

The following is a transcript of Li’s speech and question and answer session:

China has just completed the two sessions. Chinese Premier Keqiang Li mentioned “internet+” and artificial intelligence in his work report. The former has been a driving force for the rapid growth of China’s economy over the past five years, and the latter is facing the future. We have to increase investment in AI. I think it makes sense. The growth of the internet itself has encountered bottlenecks in China. The demographic dividend is gradually disappearing. Everyone already surfs the internet for certain amount of time each day. At this time, the growth of the internet is difficult. Now, online promotion costs almost the same or even more than offline advertising. With this in mind, we need a new impetus, and that impetus is artificial intelligence.

Baidu autonomous vehicle

China is very willing to take advantage of new technologies, and is now in a relatively advanced position in terms of unmanned vehicles. In just four months, the unmanned minibus jointly developed by Baidu and King Long will be mass produced. That minibus will be fully autonomous, and we will first test it in a relatively closed area. Autopilot technology is not yet mature enough to eliminate the need for drivers on the open road, but this technology is growing fast and I believe it will only take three to five years to achieve fully autonomous roads.

Today, people seem to be very concerned about any accident involving an unmanned vehicle. Every day, 500 people die from car accidents, but no one seems to be concerned about that. However, the whole world became concerned about Uber when it was involved in just one accident. Autonomous driving is a very large industry with a long industrial chain. It also involves not only China, but the whole world. So, we think that an open attitude will be more beneficial.

Chinese people are more open to accepting new things. From this perspective, autonomous driving will soon become popular in China. New smart products have been appearing on Chinese markets. Traditional speakers are now being replaced by smart speakers, and traditional televisions are now being replaced by voice-controlled televisions.

“Made in China” is changing into “Created in China” and “Smart Manufacturing in China”. Any device should have an interface that can understand human speech. In the future, when all machines can understand human speech, people do not need to learn how to use tools, as tools will have learned how to understand people.

China is also very open in terms of regulatory policies. Beijing has recently opened roads as long as 105 kilometers (65 miles) for unmanned vehicle testing. This is of great significance. Beijing is not an ordinary city. It has a population of more than 20 million people, and is the capital of China. It is not easy for Beijing to be so accommodating to new technology.

Baidu employees are very diligent and often work overtime. China has large amounts of data, and has a huge advantage over other countries because of this.

At the end of his speech, Li answered questions about privacy and data input.

On privacy, Li said:

The opening of data by the government and companies will contribute to the development of the artificial intelligence industry, and the capabilities of AI companies will increase exponentially. Of course, we also attach great importance to privacy issues, as well as to the protection of user data. User information security is the lifeline of all internet companies. It is our responsibility to secure and protect user information from violation and infringement.

Over the past few years, China has become increasingly aware of this problem and started strengthening relevant laws and regulations. But at the same time, some personal data can actually help internet companies to provide better services or products. For example, a user’s shopping habits and favorite categories on e-commerce websites could help the website provide the user with more personal and efficient services.

Under the premise of privacy protection, Chinese consumers are often willing to authorize the use of certain personal data in exchange for more convenience.

Therefore, we need to find a better balance between securing user information and using data to provide better services. Of course, all of this must follow a certain principle. On the basis of protecting the rights and interests of users, we could use data to benefit everyone.

On research and development investment, Li said:

Baidu has invested more than 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) in research and development, and will continue to invest in AI. Talents are very expensive, but we are willing to invest in them. When Baidu hires talent from Silicon Valley to work in Beijing, we will raise their salary by 15 percent or so. If our colleagues in Beijing goes to work in Silicon Valley, we will reduce their salary by about 15 percent. This is because our main market is China, and working in China will bring us greater efficiency and output.

This article originally appeared in huxiu and was translated by Pandaily.
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