Tencent, which runs WeChat, has access to over 1B users on its platform, while Baidu is the country’s largest search provider, and Alibaba is its biggest e-commerce platform. In addition, all 3 offer services well beyond their core products, and like the biggest tech giants in the US have far-reaching global ambitions.
BAT is expanding into other countries in Asia, recruiting US talent and investing in US AI startups, and forming global partnerships to advance smart city solutions, autonomous driving, conversational AI, and predictive healthcare, among other initiatives.
Baidu, Tencent, and Alibaba have the money and the resources to compete with US tech giants for global AI talent.
This is particularly significant as the demand for AI talent is driving a big run-up in salaries.
For instance, Baidu USA was offering a base salary of $130K to $175K per annum for a machine learning engineer last year, according to a petition filed with the US labor department for nonimmigrant workers. (For comparison, Google was offering around $110K for an ML engineer, although experience levels and job requirements likely vary.)
Furthermore, many of BAT’s AI products — like smart speakers, AI in retail, and autonomous vehicles — are similar to what FAMGA (Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple) is working on.
But what sets BAT apart from its US counterparts is its vocal support of, and backing from, the Chinese government.
China wants to be a world leader in AI in the next decade, and BAT is crucial to helping it get there.
The Chinese science ministry announced last quarter that the nation’s first wave of open AI platforms will rely heavily on Baidu for autonomous driving, Tencent for AI in healthcare, and Alibaba for smart cities.
Government support for an intervention in AI development will likely have an immediate impact on the fast-growing Chinese tech market (where an entire city is being built from scratch around AI-centric solutions).
Now international players — including big tech companies, smaller startups, and foreign governments — have started thinking hard about how their AI strategies will intersect with, or potentially compete against BAT.
We used the CB Insights platform to dig into BAT patents, investments, and earnings transcripts, and used these to map the companies’ AI strategies.
This report explores the following:
- Baidu’s head start in AI
- BAT’s private market AI bets and global expansion
- BAT patents reveal AI roadmap
- BAT moves into healthcare, smart cities, & autonomous driving
This is the second post in CBInsights China in AI series. You can read part 1 on the growth of surveillance tech in China here.