China's leading technology companies are on fire, heavily investing in artificial intelligence and building true global presences. McKinsey recently reported that academic and research institutions in the country publish more cited research papers than the US, UK or any other global leader in AI, producing nearly 10,000 papers in 2015 alone.
Backed by strong government mandates and billions of dollars in both private and public investments, China is challenging the US for position of global AI leader. Fearful of competition, the US government is considering placing restrictions on Chinese investments in AI and technology in the United States. In many sectors, such as healthcare, China may already be ahead of America in applying AI to critical public issues.
You might recognize names like Andrew Ng, Sebastian Thrun, Geoffrey Hinton, or Yann LeCun as important figures in AI, but few Westerners can name the key leaders driving AI innovation in China and at Chinese companies globally. These executives, entrepreneurs, professors, and researchers helm the most important Chinese tech companies and research labs and are respected widely for their technical expertise and accomplishments.
We've researched and curated 10 of the most important figures in the Chinese AI landscape that you should know:
1. Kai-Fu Lee
Co-Founder of Sinovation Ventures, Former President of Google China
Kai-Fu LeeKAI-FU LEE
Kai-Fu Lee is a globally recognized technology leader with executive experience at Apple, Microsoft, and Google. He got his BS in Computer Science from Columbia University and his PhD from Carnegie Mellon. Lee established Google China prior to co-founding Sinovation Ventures, a venture capital firm actively funding technology and AI startups in the US and China.
With celebrity status in China and over 50 million followers on Chinese social networks, Lee has become an oracle in predicting trends in Chinese tech. Lee told CNBC recently that artificial intelligence is the "singular thing that will be larger than all of human tech revolutions added together, including electricity, the industrial revolution, internet and mobile internet."
2. Qi Lu
Group President & COO, Baidu
Qi LuQI LU
Qi Lu was hired by Baidu to lead the company's strategic efforts in AI and push forward integration and collaboration within the company. Every Baidu business unit, including AI teams working on autonomous driving, reports to Lu. A spokesperson from Baidu stated: "With Dr. Lu on board, we are confident that our strategy will be executed smoothly and Baidu will become a world-class technology company and global leader in AI."
Prior to joining Baidu, Lu was personally recruited by Steve Ballmer to join Microsoft where he eventually became EVP of the Applications & Services Group. Lu started his professional career in IBM's research labs, before joining Yahoo and rising to EVP of the Search & Advertising Group. He completed a BS in Computer Science at Fudan University and was invited by Carnegie Mellon professor Edmund M. Clarke to pursue his PhD at CMU.
3. Haifeng Wang
Head of AI Group, Baidu
Haifeng WangHAIFENG WANG
After Andrew Ng's departure from Baidu, Haifeng Wang took over as leader of the expanded AI Group (AIG), consisting of Baidu's Institute of Deep Learning, Big Data Lab, Silicon Valley AI Lab, Augmented Reality Lab, Natural Language Unit, AI Platform Unit, and a few other departments.
Wang's technical specialty is natural language processing (NLP) and machine translation and he has authored over 100 academic papers in AI. He applies his expertise to Baidu's efforts in NLP, computer vision, speech recognition, knowledge graphs, personalized recommendations, and deep learning. Wang is also an adjunct professor at Harbin Institute of Technology where he received his BS, MS, and PhD degrees in Computer Science.
4. Tong Zhang
Executive Director of AI Lab, Tencent
Tong ZhangTONG ZHANG
The battle for top AI talent is incredibly fierce. Tong Zhang was poached from Baidu by Tencent last year to lead Tencent's newly established AI lab. Formerly he was head of Baidu's Big Data Lab, worked at IBM and Yahoo, and was a professor at Rutgers University.
With a team of over 50 research scientists and over 250 engineers, Zhang is focused on developing Tencent's capabilities in machine learning, computer vision, speech recognition, and natural language processing. He will be applying new AI technologies in four main areas: games, social networking, content and platform tools, and Tencent's vast array of popular mobile products like WeChat.
5. Jingren Zhou
Chief Scientist and Vice President of Alibaba Cloud, Alibaba
Jingren ZhouJINGREN ZHOU
Alibaba Cloud launched in 2009 and is now Alibaba's fastest growing business unit. Similar to Amazon Web Services (AWS), Alibaba Cloud, also called Aliyun, emerged out of the company's need for enormous computing power to handle millions of online shopping transactions.
Jingren Zhou leads big data and AI research at Alibaba Cloud's Institute of Data Science Technology (iDST). In this role, he drives Alibaba's AI technologies in speech, natural language, image and video processing and large-scale machine learning.
Prior to joining Alibaba, Zhou was an engineering manager at Microsoft in charge of developing the big data computation platform supporting Windows, Office and Bing. He received his BS from the University of Science and Technology of China and his PhD in Computer Science from Columbia University.
6. Jieping Ye
President, DiDi Research
Jieping YeJIEPING YE
DiDi Chuxing is the "Uber of China", with over 50TB of real-time data and over 9 billion routes driven per day. DiDi Research, the "brains of Didi Chuxing," is a machine learning research institute set up by the company to predict demand, reduce surge impact and also develop self-driving car technology.
Jieping Ye got his BS in Mathematics from Fudan University in China and PhD in Computer Science from University of Minnesota. Professor Jieping Ye leads DiDi's big data team of scientists and engineers. A tenured professor of the University of Michigan and a worldwide leader in machine learning and data mining, he also serves as an editorial board member in several top-level international academic journals such as IEEE TPAMI, DMKD, and IEEE TKDE. He also serves as the program chair and area chair of multiple international conferences.
7. Yuanqing Lin
Head of Baidu Research, Baidu
Yuanqing LinYUANQING LIN
As Head of Baidu Research, Yuanqin Lin manages Baidu's research labs, which include the Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL), Big Data Lab (BDL), Augmented Reality Lab (ARL), and the Institute of Deep Learning Lab (IDL). Along with Wei Xu, he will be leading Baidu's contributions to China's government funded National Engineering Laboratory of Deep Learning Technology that is co-helmed by Tsinghua & Beihang University.
Prior to Baidu, Lin was the head of Media Analytics at NEC Labs America where he led teams focusing on computer vision research for mobile search and driverless cars. Lin received his MS degree in Optical Engineering from Tsinghua University and his PhD in Electrical Engineering from University of Pennsylvania.
8. Pinpin Zhu
Pinpin ZhuPINPIN ZHU
Xiaoi is China's leading platform for conversational AI, powering the majority of the country's bot and virtual assistant experiences. Established in Shanghai in 2001, the company's technologies are used by hundreds of medium to large enterprises, government entities, and over 500 million users collectively.
Pinpin Zhu's numerous patents in the space Ã?Â¢?? including ones for "Chatting Robot System" and "SMS Robot System" Ã?Â¢?? drove Xiaoi's technical dominance in conversational interfaces. In addition to running Xiaoi, Zhu is also a Doctor of Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has been appointed to China National Information Technology Standardization Committee, and has received numerous awards and accolades for his contributions to the field.
9. Wei Xu
Distinguished Scientist, Baidu
Wei XuWEI XU
In a company full of highly credentialed scientists, researchers, and engineers, Wei Xu is the only one with the title "Distinguished Scientist". He is highly respected for his technical chops within the company due to his work on PaddlePaddle, a deep learning toolkit which was open sourced in late 2016. In development for over three years, PaddlePaddle is used to power search rankings, targeted advertising, image classification, translation, and self-driving cars.
Xu received his Bachelor's degree at Tsinghua University, his MS from Carnegie Mellon, and was previously a researcher at NEC Labs and Facebook before joining Baidu.
10. Wanli Min
Principal Data Scientist, Alibaba
Wanli MinWANLI MIN
Wanli Min led the research and development of Alibaba Cloud's (Aliyun) artificial intelligence system, named Little Ai. Ai has been deployed by Alibaba internally to support customer service and traffic pattern predictions for the company's flagship e-commerce business. Min also used machine learning to predict the winner of a top-rated Chinese reality TV show called "I Am Singer" and helped city planners in Guangdong province optimize traffic lights in real-time to reduce congestion.
Min entered college at the age of 14 and received his Bachelors from the University of Science & Technology of China and a PhD in Statistics from the University of Chicago.