BENGALURU/CHENNAI: Robin Li, the CEO of Chinese search engine Baidu, has made his first ever visit to India, at a time when rival Chinese technology giants Alibaba and Byte-Dance are making inroads in the country. Li is also seeking collaborations with Indian institutes as his company looks for local expertise in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI).
India is home to the second largest Internet user base, accounting for 12% of the users globally. It is emerging as a battleground for the US, Chinese and Indian technology and Internet companies looking to capture the ‘next billion users’.
Li delivered the keynote on AI at IIT Madras on Saturday and visited a few customers in Mumbai on Sunday. “Baidu has been monitoring India. Alibaba and Tencent have been aggressively investing in India,” said Santosh Pai, a partner at Link Legal, a law firm which advises Chinese companies investing in India. “It might be deciding to make up for the lost time in India with a new strategy. It may look at VC investments in India like Alibaba and Tencent did.”
Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are known as BAT in China. They are the original tech titans which are the centre of China’s ambitious technology plans. They are rapidly improving their artificial intelligence capabilities, challenging US tech leaders like Google and Amazon.
Alibaba was an early entrant in India, offering its listing services to small and medium companies and helping them go global. Since then, it has expanded in India through its UC Broswer and offering its cloud services to local customers. ByteDance’s short video app, Tik-Tok is among the most used social apps in the country. The only application of Baidu that has a significant presence here is the Face Emoji keyboard, which it launched in 2018.
Baidu is trying hard to diversify into AI tech from its Chinese-language search engine, as it falls behind the other two in the global technology race. Last year, Baidu posted its first loss since going public almost 15 years ago, as the Chinese tech group saw its ad business hit by a slowing domestic economy. “India is one of the fastest growing smartphone markets in the world, and India is also a very large developing country right next to China,” Li said on Saturday at IIT-Madras. “We’ve seen fast growth for both countries over the past few decades. And, I think, for the next decade, there will be more opportunities for us.”
Li told ET that he was “looking forward to working with Indian Institutions” in the future.
ByteDance is being seen as a threat in replacing Baidu’s B in BAT. Byte-Dance’s TikTok has successfully used AI to keep users hooked onto the app. Baidu’s Lisaid in the age of AI, search was evolving too. “So, how is AI changing search? We’re also seeing a number of trends. The first is that the first result is typically the right answer,” Li said at IIT-Madras. “So, we are increasingly giving direct answers instead of a very large number of links for the users to find the right answer.”
He believes that AI will pare human dependence on mobile phones as a combination of sensor-driven infrastructure and advanced programming will create an environment of voice-and-visual interface, reducing the need to use mobile devices.