Chinese tech company Baidu will launch a chatbot service called Ernie Bot in March, according to founder and CEO Robin Li. The bot will be embedded into Baidu search service first, and then AI Cloud, its Apollo autonomous driving platform, and voice assistant Xiaodu.
In a conference call with analysts, Li said the company plans to make Ernie “widely available to our customers [and] developers.” He hopes that “more and more business owners and entrepreneurs” would build their own models and applications on Baidu’s AI Cloud.
“Recently, with users raving about ChatGPT, large language models (LLMs) using generative AI have created a mega trend that will revolutionize many businesses,” Li said. “Baidu is well positioned to capitalize on the imminent inflection point” in artificial intelligence.
We are proud to announce our ongoing development of the AI chatbot project, ERNIE Bot (文心一言). First proposed as a language model in 2019, ERNIE has made significant progress since then.
Stay tuned for further updates. pic.twitter.com/J1F81VZz5i
— Baidu Inc. (@Baidu_Inc) February 7, 2023
Baidu worked on Ernie Bot for years
The launch of Microsoft’s ChatGPT-powered Bing and Google’s AI chatbot called Bard, triggered a race that has seen a host of Chinese technology companies announcing plans to introduce their own versions of AI bots.
Li revealed Ernie is powered by technology Baidu has been developing since 2019. “We have been working on LLM for a few years. We launched Ernie in March 2019, and have scaled it up with well over 100 billion parameters,” he explained.
He said the chatbot is trained thanks to several billions of user search requests that come through on a daily basis. It is best suited to handle the local Chinese language and market compared to models developed in foreign countries such as ChatGPT, Li told analysts.
“It is not only about language, but also about understanding Chinese culture,” he said. “Ernie 3.0 is already a very localized AI foundation model for the China market, which means the generative large language model we are working on right now will be more suitable in China.”
Authorities in China barred local firms from offering ChatGPT services amid concerns over the AI-powered chatbot’s unhinged replies. In addition, tech companies have to report to regulators before a launch of similar services, according to a report by the Nikkei Asia.
AI rivalry yields failure
The pressure to rival ChatGPT has seen a number of ill-fated launches in the last few months.
Google’s Bard underperformed and saw the market’s valuation drop by $100 billion. China’s version of ChatGPT, a university-developed version called Moss, also performed dismally. According to a report by the Register, the bot crashed a few hours after its launch.
Its developers admit the model is still far from matching ChatGPT on both sophistication and scale.
“The gap between Moss and ChatGPT is mainly in the pre-training stage of natural language model base,” Moss team member and professor at the University of Fudan, Qiu Xipeng, told Chinese media.
“The number of parameters of Moss is an order of magnitude smaller than that of ChatGPT, and there is still a lot of room for improvement in task completion and knowledge reserve.”
Baidu’s top line earnings for the fourth quarter were largely stagnant at 33.1 billion yuan ($4.80 billion), but still managed to beat average analysts forecast of 32 billion yuan as polled by Refinitiv. An estimated 60% of the search engine’s revenue is derived from online marketing services.