How Baidu has quietly become a global AI leader
British Alphabet subsidia...
When thinking of AI powerhouses, the buzz tends to be around the large western technology companies such as Amazon or Google.
British Alphabet subsidiary DeepMind has made huge strides in the field of machine learning, for instance, with its AlphaGo software beating master Go player Lee Sedol in a best of five at the game, which is many times more complex than chess.
Chinese companies cannot be discounted however, with giants like Alibaba and Tencent being huge players in both AI and the wider technology scene.
Technology company Baidu is another example, operating one of the world’s most popular search engines and serving in many ways as a Chinese analogue to Google.
Similar to Alphabet’s DeepMind, Baidu runs an active AI research division, which has resulted in a number of breakthroughs. In a blog post, the company summarised the work it had achieved in the course of 2019. One feature allows the company’s Baidu Maps application to synthesise the voice of the user after hearing just 20 sentences spoken aloud. Another saw continuous communication implemented in its smart speakers, meaning the wake word didn’t have to be repeatedly used unnecessarily.
Baidu CTO Haifeng Wang said in the post, “like the core technologies of the previous industrial revolutions, AI is highly generalized, showing the characteristics of industrial production, such as standardization, automation and modularity.”
Quantifying Baidu’s advancement compared to other companies is tricky. However, one metric is the General Language Understanding Evaluation (GLUE), which ranks approaches to AI language understanding. At the tail end of last year, Baidu topped this list, beating out competition from Google and Microsoft to become the first model to achieve a 90. Among other solutions, it also outperformed a human benchmark.
Discord buys Sentropy to fight against hate and abuse online
Discord, a popular chat app, has acquired the software company Sentropy to bolster its efforts to combat online abuse and harassment. Sentropy, monitors online networks for abuse and harassment, then offers users a way to block problematic people and filter out messages they don’t want to see.
First launched in 2015 and currently boasting 150 million monthly active users, Discord plans to integrate Sentropy’s own products into its existing toolkit and the company will also bring the smaller company’s leadership group aboard. Discord currently uses a “multilevel” approach to moderation, and a Trust and Safety (T&S) team dedicated to protecting users and shaping content moderation policies comprised 15% of Discord’s workforce as of May 2020.
“T&S tech and processes should not be used as a competitive advantage,” Sentropy CEO John Redgrave said in a blog post on the announcement. “We all deserve digital and physical safety, and moderators deserve better tooling to help them do one of the hardest jobs online more effectively and with fewer harmful impacts.”
Cleanse platforms of online harassment and abuse
Redgrave elaborated on the company’s natural connection with Discord: “Discord represents the next generation of social companies — a generation where users are not the product to be sold, but the engine of connectivity, creativity, and growth. In this model, user privacy and user safety are essential product features, not an afterthought. The success of this model depends upon building next-generation Trust and Safety into every product. We don’t take this responsibility lightly and are humbled to work at the scale of Discord and with Discord’s resources to increase the depth of our impact.”
Sentropy launched out of stealth last summer with an AI system designed to detect, track and cleanse platforms of online harassment and abuse. The company emerged then with $13 million in funding from notable backers including Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and his VC firm Initialized Capital, King River Capital, Horizons Ventures and Playground Global.
“We are excited to help Discord decide how we can most effectively share with the rest of the Internet the best practices, technology, and tools that we’ve developed to protect our own communities,” Redgrave said.