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Baidu has long been referred to as “China’s Google” because it dominates Web search in the country. Today the comparison grew more apt: Baidu has opened a new artificial-intelligence research lab in Silicon Valley that will be overseen by Andrew Ng, a Stanford professor who played a key role at Google in a field called deep learning. He was also a cofounder of the online education company Coursera.

Recent advances have triggered a technological arms race in Silicon Valley, with big Web companies competing for the best academic talent. Like Google, Facebook, and other companies rushing to invest in deep learning, Baidu is motivated by the promise of dramatic advances in artificial intelligence.

Deep learning makes it possible for machines to process large amounts of date using simulated networks of simple neurons, crudely modeled on those found in biological brains. The approach has yielded dramatically improved software for tasks such as image and speech recognition (see “Deep Learning”), and it could ultimately allow apps, devices, and Internet services to understand things like images and text as well as humans do.

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