Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng to head up Baidu’s AI team

Andrew Ng is leaving his day-to-day role at Coursera, the online education company he co-founded in 2012, to serve as chief scientist for Chinese search engine company Baidu. In a Friday morning blog post announcing the move — which Chinese press reported on Thursday — Ng wrote that he will remain Coursera’s chairman and continue to evangelize for the company.

Ng is an expert in machine learning and artificial intelligence. He is head of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab; taught a very popular machine learning course on Coursera; and before was a key part of the Google Brain team that in 2012 built the now-famous system that learned to recognize cats and human faces in YouTube videos.

At Baidu, Ng will help to build out the company’s new Baidu Silicon Valley AI Lab, headquartered in Sunnyvale. It’s one of three Baidu R&D labs, along with the Beijing Deep Learning Lab (formerly known as the Institute of Deep Learning), and the Beijing Big Data Lab. Baidu first announced its intent to build a research presence in Silicon Valley as part of its Deep Learning Lab launch in April 2013.

Baidu is one of a handful of web companies — including Google, Facebook and Microsoft —  actively working on deep learning and advanced artificial intelligence research. The current state of the art is largely focused on teaching computers to recognize people, objects and actions in photos and videos, and to understand language at a deeper level than previously possible. Although the use cases are advancing: the DeepMind team that Google acquired earlier this year claims to have developed technology that can teach itself the rules of video games.

Google and Facebook also brought on well-known deep learning researchers to help with their efforts. Google hired Geoff Hinton from the University of Toronto (and acquired his neural network startup) in March 2013, and Facebook hired Yann LeCun from New York University in December.

Ng will maintain his role at Stanford and Coursera will still offer his courses.

Update: This post was updated at 10:07 a.m. to clarify that Andrew Ng is not leaving Coursera, but rather stepping away from his day-to-day responsibilities with the company.