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Punk bands from Blondie to the Ramones once played in Broadway Studios, an age-worn 95-year-old neoclassical building surrounded by strip clubs in San Francisco’s North Beach. But early on this bright June morning, a different sort of rock star arrives. A small crowd attending a tech startup conference swarms around a tall, soft-spoken man in a blue dress shirt and navy suit who politely poses for photos. Andrew Ng, newly appointed chief scientist at Baidu, China’s dominant search company, is here to talk about his plans to advance deep learning, a powerful new approach to artificial intelligence loosely modeled on the way the brain works. It has already made computers vastly better at recognizing speech, translating languages, and identifying images—and Ng’s work at Google and Stanford University, where he was a professor of computer science, is behind some of the biggest breakthroughs. After his talk, the audience of about 200 entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and tech workers sends him off with two rounds of applause.

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