Baidu Changes Direction, Showcases Ernie Chatbot to Select Firms

Baidu Changes Direction, Showcases Ernie Chatbot to Select Firms

According to a press statement, Chinese tech giant Baidu has scrapped plans to launch its Ernie chatbot publicly, opting instead for a private showcase for select tech firms.

The company launched privately to accommodate the 120,000 companies on its waitlist waiting to test the tool.

The chatbot is Baidu’s response to ChatGPT, which took the world by storm when it launched in late 2022. Some critics claimed Baidu’s private launch was instigated by pressure from the Chinese government, but the tech company refutes this.

Meanwhile, an earlier test launch of the Ernie bot generated positive reviews from the research firms who tested it. However, analysts noted that China’s restrictive internet policy could limit and censor information available to the artificial intelligence tool.

Despite such challenges, the Ernie bot already enjoys a strong demand at home. That demand will likely increase with a full launch, although that might not necessarily translate into global adoption.

Ernie users highlight failure

South China Morning Post reported that several Ernie users discovered the AI tool gave strange responses despite being prompted in Chinese.

The AI tool failed to draw Chinese foods like the Taiwanese three-cup chicken, Sichuan yuxiang pork, etc.

Baidu Changes Direction, Showcases Ernie Chatbot to Select Firms
Ernie’s Failed Attempt to Draw Taiwanese three-cup chicken (Source: China Talk)

These failures prompted speculation that the AI was not self-developed. Critics added that the chatbot machine translates prompts into English before generating responses via a foreign model.

However, Baidu has rejected this assertion, arguing that the product was “totally self-developed.” The firm clarified that its Ernie-ViLG model trained its text-to-image capabilities.

Is Baidu’s Ernie China’s solution to ChatGPT?

Despite the Chinese government’s support for AI innovations, Baidu is one of the first Chinese companies to record success in its AI journey. Other major tech companies, such as Tencent, Huawei and Alibaba, have also been charged with leading the country’s AI journey in their respective sectors.

Besides being the largest tech company in China, Baidu is also the top search engine in Asia. It is popularly referred to as the Chinese Google.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government has stepped up its use of AI in science and technology research. The country is directing more resources to the industry and has launched a new plan tagged “Artificial Intelligence for Science.”

The head of the project, Xu Bo, said:

“[AI technology has shown] powerful capabilities beyond traditional methods of mathematics or physics in many scientific research fields.

“But in terms of the systematic layout of artificial intelligence-driven scientific research, design, interdisciplinary integration etc, there is still room for improvement.”

However, any progress made might still play second fiddle to ChatGPT, at least for now. The company behind it, OpenAI, recently launched a new update and has been integrating the AI bot into a slew of platforms and products.

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney, Unsplash.