Last year, Microsoft executive vice president Qi Lu appeared at the company's Build developer conference discussing the potential for new technologies to transform the way that people get things done, including the use of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and conversation-as-a-platform. "Conversation and language becomes the UI," he said. "We're all human beings, we can all use it. The potential is enormous, and Microsoft can lead" in developing those areas, he added.
But later in the year, Lu was involved in a cycling accident, and ended up leaving the company due to medical problems that followed the crash. Now, Lu is returning to work - not at Microsoft, but at Chinese search giant Baidu.
Lu is joining Baidu as its Chief Operating Officer, with a broad range of responsibilities, and oversight for every part of the company's sprawling operations. At Microsoft, Lu was in charge of the Bing search platform and Office, as well as playing a key role in the company's move towards artificial intelligence and its growing focus on bots.
His considerable expertise will be a welcome addition at Baidu as the Chinese company increases its investments in areas as such as AI.
"To achieve our goals, especially in artificial intelligence, which is a key strategic focus for the next decade, we will need to continue attracting the best global talent," Baidu CEO Robin Li said today. "With Dr Lu on board, we are confident that our strategy will be executed smoothly, and Baidu will become a world-class technology company leader in AI."
Bloomberg noted that Baidu is particularly interested in conversation-as-a-platform, and has been working with Harman International Industries - which was acquired by Samsung in November - on an Amazon Echo-style speaker that can be controlled through voice interactions. Lu's experience and enthusiasm for natural language interactions will surely prove invaluable in that area.
Last month, Microsoft celebrated its collaboration with the same company, as it teased an upcoming Harman Kardon speaker that will use its Cortana digital assistant.