Baidu CEO Robin Li’s appearance at the company’s annual Create AI developer conference in Beijing on Wednesday morning was interrupted by a man who stormed the stage and emptied a bottle of water on his head.
The tech titan calmly took a step back and uttered in English, “What’s your problem?”
Li, the head of China’s top search engine, was in the middle of a speech about Baidu’s heavy investment in artificial intelligence technologies. The protester, who wore an attendee badge, was quickly escorted off the stage by security.
Some in the audience stood up and clapped. Li quickly pulled it together and continued his speech.
With his shirt still wet, he joked: “As you can see, different unexpected things will happen as AI advances. But we are unswerving in our determination to move forward. We firmly believe that AI has the power to change everyone’s life.”
Baidu’s official Weibo account repeated Li’s words in a post (in Chinese), writing that the protester “pouring cold water” (浇冷水 jiāo lěngshuǐ) on AI will not discourage Baidu’s AI initiatives.
While the protester’s identity hasn’t been revealed and his motives remain unknown, people have uncovered what they believe to be his Weibo, in which he has published a string of posts in the past two days documenting his plan. Under the alias @直男上树 — “Straight man climbing a tree” — the person posted on July 1 that he would be “flying to Beijing tomorrow.” On July 2, he posted a bus photo with a caption, “My wife sent me to the bus stop, totally unaware of what I’m gonna do.” On the day of the conference, he shared several photos of the venue and a bottle of water, which is presumably the one he carried to the stage. “Little Du little Du, what consequences I will face if I empty a bottle of water over your boss’s head?” he wrote, with a photo of a Baidu-powered robot.
2019 has been a tumultuous year for Baidu, after it reported its first-ever quarterly loss, saw a significant slip in its stock price, and lost trust from both their employees and the public. Interesting enough, the latest incident — particularly Li’s handling of it — might give the company a much-needed PR boost.