Farewell to Baidu, Zhang Yaqin’s new track

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Zhang Ya Qin
Zhang Yaqin’s new track
Our reporter / Zhao Yiwei
2019 is a year of special significance for Zhang Yaqin. This is the 30th year of his doctorate and the 30th anniversary of his marriage. In 2019, he chose to officially end his entrepreneurial role.
Stepping off the stage of entrepreneur, Zhang Yaqin has a higher degree of freedom in his life, and he begins to incline the balance of energy to academic and life. What remains unchanged is that his career goal is still focused on the intelligent industry full of a sense of future, just switching to an academic track.
“It’s like I’ve changed from a team leader to a coach on the sidelines.” “But the theme of the competition is still around the intelligent industry,” Zhang told China News Weekly
The decision to retire from Baidu has been brewing for a long time. As early as the end of 2018, Zhang Yaqin put forward the idea of retirement to Robin Li, and then began to work handover. In March 2019, Robin Li announced the retirement plan for Baidu executives through internal letters, and Zhang Yaqin was the first executive to apply for retirement plans.
In October 2019, Zhang Yaqin officially bid farewell to Baidu, the company of five years, and he chose to return to the academic world as a scientist. At the first time of the announcement of the retirement news, Yang diange, Dean of the school of vehicle and transportation of Tsinghua University, sent an invitation to Zhang Yaqin. At the same time, there are many high-tech companies, well-known universities and investment institutions at home and abroad.
The snowflake like offers did not disturb Zhang Yaqin’s planning. The first offers he declined were all enterprises. For the next step in his life, he thought clearly: “colleges and universities are the point of interest. I hope to do some academic research more independently, and more importantly, cultivate a group of leading talents.”
Finally, the sincerity of Tsinghua moved Zhang Yaqin. On December 31 last year, Zhang Yaqin was officially employed as a chair professor of “intelligent science” in Tsinghua University, and was also responsible for leading the preparation of “Tsinghua University Institute of intelligent industry (air)”. He hoped to combine artificial intelligence, brain like computing and intelligent vehicle development to create the world’s top innovation and research platform.
“The fourth industrial revolution is coming, and machine intelligence is changing every industry.” Zhang Yaqin told China News Weekly, “I hope air will make subversive achievements for the intelligent industry and cultivate technical talents with international vision.”
“Must be doing something interesting”
Last October 13, Zhang Yaqin attended the inauguration ceremony of the new academician of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2019 at Harvard University, and was officially elected as a academician of the Department of mathematics and physics of the Academy.
After unloading the burden of entrepreneurs, Zhang Yaqin quickly arranged lectures and speeches in Australia, Singapore, the United States and other universities, and began to devote more energy to academic research and public welfare undertakings. In fact, his life background as a scientist has never changed even in his many years of corporate executive career.
In 1978, Zhang Yaqin, who was only 12 years old, was admitted to the junior class of University of science and technology of China, and became the youngest college student of the year. At first, young Zhang Yaqin just wanted to continue to learn mathematics and physics that he was interested in. He regarded Newton as an idol and his life wish was to become a scientist.
Zhang Yaqin’s bond with electronic engineering is in the class of an information electronics teacher. In the teacher’s description, the future “information world and robot” is full of charm, and Zhang Yaqin is deeply attracted, feeling “particularly fresh and interesting”.
When he later chose a major, he decided to choose the Department of electronic engineering, and began decades of deep cultivation.
“I don’t plan long before I make a decision, and I have different goals at different points in time.” Zhang Yaqin recalled to China News Weekly, “the only sure thing is that what I am willing to do all the time must be something I am interested in from the bottom of my heart.”
In 1986, just 20-year-old Zhang Yaqin graduated from the University of science and technology with a master’s degree in electronic engineering, and went to study in the United States alone. During this period, Zhang Yaqin made many new achievements in image compression and enhancement of the first large-scale medical information system, and wrote some high-level papers. Three years later, 23-year-old Zhang Yaqin successfully received his Ph.D. from George Washington University.
After graduating from Ph.D., Zhang Yaqin entered the Research Institute established by Contel in Washington, D.C., and served as a senior researcher in video compression research. The company was later acquired by GTE, and Zhang Yaqin was transferred to GTE headquarters. Here, Zhang Yaqin enjoys two kinds of wealth that a scientist most yearns for: sufficient research funds and freedom of subject research. He began to devote himself to the field of digital video transmission and communication research.
In the five years in the laboratory, he has published more than 100 papers on video compression, digital television, digital telephone and other electronic engineering. He has made important achievements in video compression and ultra-low rate compression coding. Some technologies and patents have been adopted by international standards.
In 1991, the wavelet full image dynamic video coding and video wireless communication by Zhang Yaqin created a new field, and has become an outstanding scholar in the field of electrical and electronic research. In 1994, Zhang Yaqin joined Sarnoff labs (now Stanford Research Institute), an authoritative research institution in the field of electronics in the United States, as the director of multimedia laboratory, leading a world-class multimedia team, and made outstanding contributions to the research, technology and standards of digital video coding and communication in the world.
In 1997, Zhang Yaqin, 31, was elected as an IEEE fellow. This is the highest academic honor in the field of electrical and electronic research in the world, and he has become the youngest scientist in history.
In January 1999, Zhang Yaqin, at the invitation of Li Kaifu, gave up the superior scientific research environment of the United States and moved his family back to Beijing, where he became the chief scientist of Microsoft China Research Institute and the president of Microsoft China Research Institute in August 2000.

When he first arrived at Microsoft, Zhang Yaqin chose graphics, multimedia and user interface as the main research direction. Within one year, he led the multimedia team to publish more than 80 papers, made 60 new inventions, applied for 40 U.S. patents in the field of network protocol, and transferred 8 mature technologies to relevant product departments.
On November 1, 2001, Microsoft China Research Institute was upgraded to Microsoft Asia Research Institute, with Zhang Yaqin as the first president. Then in 2004, Zhang Yaqin was transferred back to the U.S. headquarters as the global vice president of Microsoft, responsible for the global mobile communication and embedded product business of one of the seven major departments of Microsoft.
In 2006, after returning to China, Zhang Yaqin established Microsoft Asia Pacific R & D group, which created the largest comprehensive R & D institution set up by multinational companies in China at that time. During this period, Zhang Yaqin took the lead in putting forward the three concepts of “cloud + end”, “three platforms” (end platform, cloud platform and cloud application service platform) and “Internet Physicalization”, which directly affected Microsoft’s strategic deployment in the next 15 years, and also had a profound impact on the entire Internet industry. The innovative technology developed by him has been applied to Microsoft’s products. Office, windows, Bing, Xbox Kinect and windows phone bring these innovative technologies to the world.
In 2008, as an overseas representative of the 11th CPPCC National Committee, he submitted the proposal of “China’s cloud computing development strategy proposal” which received the government’s key support and attention. He served as deputy director of cloud computing Expert Committee of China Electronics Society and director of Internet of things Expert Committee of China Internet association, making important contributions to cloud computing and Internet development in China. His views on ABC cloud (AI + big data + cloud integration, cloud 2.0, and intelligent + have been widely recognized by the industry.
In 2015, he visited China with President Xi Jinping on behalf of Chinese entrepreneurs. He served as the 15 Chinese CEO representatives and 15 CEO dialogues of the US side to participate in the Sino US CEO Roundtable and the Sino US internet forum.
From GTE, Stanford to Microsoft, Zhang Yaqin gradually changed from a “research room maniac” to a technology landing expert. On the one hand, the research he has done is fundamentally academic; on the other hand, he is also trying to put these studies into practice as technical products and serve enterprises.
“From academic research to technological products to markets, there is a time lag in itself.” Zhang Yaqin told China News Weekly, “academic research needs to have a clear understanding of the most cutting-edge development trend, which is the premise of landing as a technical product and judging the market.”.
“Mission accomplished”
At the same time, the decline of PC era is the strong development momentum of China’s rising high-tech companies, and the leading-edge technology business that focuses on power is also famous.
The vitality of innovation comes from the sound of fire. Zhang Yaqin, who always hopes to keep up with cutting-edge technology, began to turn his attention to domestic high-tech companies.
In May 2014, Baidu, as the first high-tech company in China, established a R & D center in the United States. As a window for Baidu to attract key talents to the United States, the center is responsible for the continuous input of AI fresh blood to Baidu.
At the Baidu World Conference held in September 3, 2014, Zhang Yaqin, as an outsider, sat beside Robin Li unexpectedly. Just after the Mid Autumn Festival holiday that year, the news that Zhang Yaqin joined Baidu spread all over the Internet.
When leaving Microsoft, Zhang Yaqin can use the four words “mission accomplished” to put an end to Microsoft’s career in the past 16 years.
On the one hand, the “Great Wall plan” initiated by Zhang Yaqin has cultivated more than 300000 talents for China, and established joint laboratories in 10 universities; on the other hand, Zhang Yaqin has launched Microsoft venture capital accelerator to incubate more than 300 excellent companies for China’s IT industry, and has been rated as China’s best incubator for many times.
After entering Baidu, Zhang Yaqin has gained more playing space. With the dual identities of entrepreneur and scientist, he served as the “new business leader”, responsible for managing almost all technology and business departments except search.
In the past five years, Zhang Yaqin has successively promoted the integration and development of Baidu Intelligent Cloud and AI to B business, and actively arranged in the field of cutting-edge AI chips and quantum computing, leading the emerging business including intelligent driving. Especially in the critical period of Baidu’s business transformation from PC to mobile Internet, and then to AI strategy, baidu cloud business led by Zhang Yaqin is an extremely important battle.
Since 2016, competition in the domestic cloud computing market has intensified, including domestic Internet cloud computing giants represented by Alibaba cloud and international giants represented by AWS. Baidu, as a new force of cloud computing, has lagged behind its rivals in the entry time.
Zhang Yaqin proposed the concept of “ABC Trinity” of cloud computing, that is, AI (Artificial Intelligence) + big dat (big data) + cloud computing Trinity. Later, Zhang Yaqin introduced Yin Shiming, general manager of enterprise department and head of ecosystem of apple in Greater China, as general manager of Baidu cloud, and put Baidu AI strategy into all walks of life through Baidu cloud.
Under the leadership of Zhang Yaqin, baidu cloud, which holds high the “ABC” and “cloud + AI” strategies, successfully broke through without the first mover advantage.
In 2018, the number of users and revenue of Baidu Intelligent Cloud doubled, traffic and server tripled, becoming the No. 1 cloud manufacturer in China’s growth rate; Baidu Intelligent Cloud ranked No. 4 in China’s public cloud market, ranking No. 1 camp.
In December 2018, baidu upgraded the Intelligent Cloud business unit (ACU) to the Intelligent Cloud business group (ACG), which is responsible for the development of AI to B and cloud business. Yin Shiming is in charge and continues to report to Zhang Yaqin. At this time, Zhang Yaqin has emerging business groups and intelligent driving business groups in his hands, and continues to play a key role in Baidu’s technology and business development.

Intelligent Cloud business is becoming Baidu’s new business growth engine. According to the Q3 financial report in 2019, the main revenue of search information flow business is 20.4 billion yuan, and the revenue of other businesses other than search, including iqiyi, smart cloud and smart devices, is 7.6 billion yuan. Among them, Baidu Intelligent Cloud and AI business revenue still maintained a large growth.
Leading Baidu for 5 years, Zhang Yaqin has accomplished the mission of transformation and development excellently. At this time, looking at the business in full swing, he chose to let go.
“I began to want to do more research and talent development.” Zhang Yaqin told China News Weekly that now the company has laid a solid business foundation and has a mature leader, with a very good prospect. “I am relieved to leave at this time.”.
“Intelligent driving is a human dream”
At the first Baidu Apollo ecological summit in December 2019, Zhang Yaqin, who retired from Baidu, and Li Zhenyu, general manager of intelligent driving business group, appeared at the summit. At this time, his external status has been transformed into the chairman of Apollo Council.
“Now I play a more supportive and coordinating role in Apollo, not a real manager.” Zhang Yaqin told China News Weekly.
Although he has retired from Baidu, Zhang Yaqin is still emotionally reluctant to give up the Apollo program. This project started his exploration of intelligent driving technology and products, and it is also an important reason why he decided to continue to work in the field of intelligent driving after returning to academia.
In April 2017, Baidu officially launched the new plan called Apollo (Apollo), which aims to provide an open, complete and secure software platform to partners in the automotive industry and the field of automatic driving, to help them quickly build a complete autonomous driving system combined with vehicle and hardware system.
Baidu’s “Apollo” program is named after the meaning of “Apollo moon landing program”, which is full of passion and expectation.
“Intelligent driving is a human dream, which is just like the dream of landing on the moon.” Zhang Yaqin told China News Weekly that there are infinite opportunities in the future of intelligent driving. First, it has great social benefits. Second, it will give birth to many new industries and services, and even reconstruct the old automobile industry and business architecture. “This is an exciting industry.”.
In Zhang Yaqin’s view, intelligent driving is not only the integrator of AI technologies, but also the most complex and challenging task in the narrow sense of AI field. ” Zhang Yaqin said that in the past two years, almost a third of his time has been spent on intelligent driving and building Apollo ecology.
The strong interest in the field of intelligent driving has inspired Zhang Yaqin to study this field in depth.
This coincides with the research direction of “mobile travel” of vehicle College of Tsinghua University. Zhang Yaqin has been a visiting professor in Tsinghua University for a long time, and has had exchanges with many professors in the field of automatic driving. When Zhang Yaqin announced his retirement, it was Professor Yang diange, Dean of the school of vehicles of Tsinghua University, who first offered the invitation.
“Tsinghua has the advantages of computer, automobile, information and other multi-disciplinary resources, and is willing to provide sufficient research space.” Zhang Yaqin told China News Weekly that without much hesitation, he decided that Tsinghua would be the “next stop” for his life.
Today, Zhang Yaqin has more than 60 U.S. patents, published more than 500 academic papers, and published 11 monographs. For him, to return to the academic world at this stage does not mean that he is immersed in the theoretical research of the monograph.
“I’m not interested in how many articles have been published.” Zhang Yaqin told China News Weekly that in his plan, what he should do is to fully integrate academic research and intelligent industry, and make “subversive” and “history changing” research results, “which is what first-class research institutions should do.”.
Zhang Yaqin’s excitement comes from a new challenge. In Tsinghua, he will be responsible for the preparation of an “Intelligent Industry Research Institute”, which will take autonomous driving, artificial intelligence + Internet of things and brain like intelligence as the key technological breakthrough direction, and build a world-class innovation and research platform.
At present, such a research institute has no specific reference at home and abroad. Among the research institutions contacted by Zhang Yaqin, there are institutions focusing on the field of mathematics and physics, laboratories focusing on brain science, and funds focusing on the research and development of artificial intelligence technology.
Zhang Yaqin’s Research Institute will be an innovative and challenging interdisciplinary research institution.
“Facing the 4th industrial revolution, an international, industrialized and intelligent academic research and innovation center, this is my position.” Zhang Yaqin told China News Weekly that “the real problems in the development of intelligent industry can be solved only when the academic research is first and the disruptive research results are put into the technical products. The most important thing is to train a group of top CTOs and architects with international vision for Chinese enterprises. ”
Zhang Yaqin is working hard to realize this vision. According to his schedule, if all goes well, preliminary preparations will be completed in April this year, and the Institute will be officially established in July.
When it comes to the future, Zhang Yaqin can hardly hide his expectation: “no matter in the past or in the future, learning has always been my interest. When the future academic and industrial integration, I believe that my enthusiasm will be more inspired