China’s Baidu Unveils Ernie, the New AI Chatbot Rival to OpenAI’s ChatGPT
Chinese search engine giant Baidu has announced the launch of its latest AI-powered chatbot, Ernie, which is poised to rival OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Baidu’s CEO, Robin Li, revealed the technology’s capabilities during a livestreamed press conference held on Thursday. He stated that Ernie, also known as Weixin in Chinese, was the result of decades of hard work and efforts by Baidu. Li showcased Ernie generating a conference poster and video based on a prompt, offering advice on the best location for the event among several Chinese cities, and reading material in a Sichuan dialect. The bot also answered questions about a popular Chinese science fiction novel and summarised its plot.
Ernie’s Features and Availability
Baidu will initially offer Ernie’s features to a limited number of users with an Ernie invitation code. The bot performs better in Chinese compared to English and can struggle with questions that contain logical errors, although it can identify when something is wrong. Unlike OpenAI’s demonstrations of ChatGPT, Baidu did not demonstrate Ernie’s capabilities live but instead through a series of slides. The chatbot also lacks functions unveiled in the follow-up to ChatGPT, GPT-4, such as the ability to generate text in response to an image.
Investor Response and Market Impact
Ernie’s launch was poorly received by investors, with Baidu’s Hong Kong-listed shares falling more than 10% during the pre-recorded demonstration. According to Chim Lee, a China tech analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, there is still a lot of uncertainty around Ernie’s capacity, especially given the lack of a live demo, a stark contrast to OpenAI’s GPT-4’s developer livestream. Lee added that Robin Li did not demonstrate Ernie’s capacity in a non-Chinese language environment, which puts it behind ChatGPT.
Expectations for Ernie
Robin Li praised Baidu for launching the bot ahead of competitors such as Google and Facebook parent company Meta. Li stated that his expectations for Ernie are closer to ChatGPT or even GPT-4. More than 650 organizations in China, including China CITIC Bank, the National Museum of China, and the Global Times newspaper, have plans to use Ernie, according to Li.
AI-Powered Chatbots in China
The Chinese government has pledged to support local AI developers and integrate the technology across Chinese industry. Local tech giants including Alibaba, Huawei, and JD.com have announced plans to bring out their own chatbots. China’s strict internet controls, though, have raised doubts about how AI-powered chatbots will operate in China given the technology’s reliance on information scrapped from sources online. Nonetheless, Ernie could find some success in China due to restrictions on OpenAI’s bots in the country, Lee said. “Chinese technology companies have a strong capacity in finding working business models for new technologies,” he said.