BEIJING – A routine keynote address by Baidu Inc. chief Robin Li morphed into a public humiliation when an unidentified man jumped onstage and doused him in water.
The billionaire founder was 10 minutes into introducing an AI-powered valet parking service when a man in a black T-shirt upended a small bottle of water over his head. The Chinese internet tycoon froze in place for a few seconds, wiped his face, then plowed ahead with his speech as if nothing had happened.
“What’s your problem?” Li said in English to the perpetrator, who was wearing an event pass. “As everyone has just seen, there will be a variety of unexpected happenings on the road to AI,” said the CEO, who was headlining a Baidu artificial intelligence developers’ forum in Beijing.
It’s unclear who the prankster was. Li, who created China’s largest search service en route to a personal fortune estimated at $8.7 billion, wrapped up his speech in about 40 minutes before departing the stage. Li is considered among the country’s foremost tech pioneers, a captain of the domestic internet industry alongside the likes of Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Tencent’s Pony Ma.
Baidu has weathered a plethora of troubles. In 2016, a university student died after pursuing a cancer treatment he’d found through Baidu’s search engine, fostering mistrust of the brand. China’s slowing economy is hitting the company because it’s heavily reliant on the competitive advertising market. It has also lost several key senior executives in past years. In May, it posted a loss for the first time since going public in 2005.
Baidu confirmed the incident in a statement but didn’t elaborate. It follows a number of similar occurrences around the world. In June, animal-rights activists rushed on stage at a conference in Las Vegas where Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos was being interviewed. A few days prior, a man snatched the microphone from California senator and presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, at a forum.
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