Robin Li: We certainly Don’t Want any Supervision, but it’s Unrealistic.

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Robin Li appeared on the cover of Time (Asia Edition). And the magazine cover photo was quickly spread in WeChat Moments on the early morning of January 19. This moment motivated Baidu, as this is the first time that a Chinese Internet entrepreneur has appeared on the cover of Time.

Time defines Robin Li as an innovator, reporting that Robin Li is helping China to win in the 21st century. This issue , will be published on January 29, 2018.

That Li’s appearance on the cover of Time is largely due to Baidu’s investment in artificial intelligence apart from the contribution made by Baidu’s public relations team. Baidu’s revenue totaled $9 billion in the first three quarters of 2017, but Baidu spent $1.2 billion on research and development, much of which was spent on artificial intelligence.

Robin Li once called Baidu an artificial intelligence company. What’s more, he said at the 2016 World Internet Conference in Wuzhen that the next era is the era of artificial intelligence. This sets the tone for Baidu’s position in artificial intelligence, and shows that how determined Robin Li and Baidu are in artificial intelligence. It is just like to conquer or to die.

This issue covers some old stories, and some words are too soft. But some are not, such as the topic of the lasting Chinese Internet censorship. Chinese government hopes that foreign companies in China can comply with local laws and regulations. The typical case is Google’ withdrawl from China. Now, Google is scratching its head over how to re-enter China, and Fei-fei Li may play a key role. But this article won’t explore that.

Obviously, Li did not think that Google’ withdrawl was because of the strict Internet censorship. He said, “the primary reason why Google left China is that Baidu has gained increasing market shares. The Chinese market is highly competitive. The situation changes quickly and the decisions must be made fast. U.S. companies didn’t make decisions in China. And this is a problem.

When Google withdrew from the Chinese market, Baidu took over 75 percent of China’s search market. But Baidu fell behind in the time of mobile Internet because of its slow moves, which explains why Li wants so urgently that AI comes to replace mobile Internet.

In the interview, Li defended the government’s past actions, saying: “if something is considered illegal, it is illegal and we should ban it. That’s how we do business in China.”

When asked if he was worried about that the cyberspace freedom in China may have shrink, Li cautiously replied, “as an Internet company, of course, Baidu doesn’t want any supervision, so that we can act freely. But I don’t think it’s practical, and it’s not good for the country.”

Li also argues that the Chinese government needs to remain open to the world if it wants to catch up with others. While the United States, led by President Trump, is showing signs of retraction in terms of opening-up.

In fact, in China, Alibaba, Tencent, and other Internet companies are facing the same situation as Baidu. On the one hand, they want to work with the Chinese government, such as participating in Xiongan District construction, and Unicom reform. On the other hand, they are trying to keep a proper distance from the government.

In addition, China’s openness and support for artificial intelligence is also urgently needed by Chinese Internet companies. In 2017, the State Council, China’s cabinet, launched a white paper on artificial intelligence and hopes to make China “the world’s major centre for artificial intelligence innovation” by 2030. Many people now believe that China may lead the world in artificial intelligence. For example, Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Alphabet which is Google parent company, predicts that China’s artificial intelligence will overtake the U.S. within 10 years. He said, “by 2030, they (China) will rule the artificial intelligence industry.”

So, to some extent, it is artificial intelligence that put Li to be the cover person of Time. Innovation is the cornerstone of artificial intelligence. When it comes to innovation, Li said, “you can’t change the trend, so the only thing you can do is to continue innovation, and to create more jobs.”

At the beginning of 2018, Baidu is quite aggressive in publicity. Li appeared on the cover of Time, and long report focused on Lu Qi and Melissa Ma were also published in China. After a year of organization structure and business adjustment, Lu and Ma have led Baidu to pull forces together and start afresh.

And Robin Li just needs to be on the magazine cover and be a quiet handsome man.

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