Baidu’s chief operating officer Lu Qi, who oversaw the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) drive, is stepping down in July, less than two years into his tenure in China’s biggest search engine, Reuters reports.
Baidu’s stock tumbled in New York after it made the announcement, down 9.5 percent at the close on Friday.
Lu, an AI expert who was formerly executive vice president at Microsoft, joined the Beijing-based internet giant in January 2017, when the company was shifting its core focus to AI after a damaging advertisement scandal, seeking to rebuild investor confidence. Lu is currently responsible for day-to-day operations in its AI unit.
In a statement from Baidu, CEO Robin Li said: “We have seen many positive changes at Baidu since Qi joined last year. I’m especially impressed by Qi’s integrity, dedication to work and sharp insights into technologies and businesses.”
“I’m honored to have participated in Baidu’s transition into an AI-first company,” Lu said in the statement, adding that he can no longer work full-time in China as he will spend more time in the United States. He said his decision to leave was for “personal and family reasons”.
However, he will remain vice chairman of Baidu, and will focus on research and development. The company’s vice president Wang Haifeng will be promoted to senior vice-president to oversee Baidu’s AI projects.
Viewed as a top figure in the global AI industry, Lu is the executive behind Baidu’s AI projects including the enhancements to the firm’s news feed product. The company’s AI push has helped Baidu to regain its momentum. Its stock is up 53.8 percent from the beginning of 2017.
CNBC said the move is a loss for one of China’s leading tech companies, which, like their US-based peers, are seeking to reshape their services around AI.
Lu joins the list of high-profile AI experts who have left Baidu in recent years. Andrew Ng, a widely respected chief scientist, left the company after three years to pursue other projects in March 2017. Not long after, Wang Jing, head of Baidu’s autonomous driving unit, stepped down to launch a separate firm in the same field, Reuters said.
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