- During a live release event on Thursday, Baidu CEO Robin Li pointed out that the company’s product – called Ernie bot – isn’t perfect.
- Instead, he described how it would improve with the ability of users to give him feedback.
- Baidu is prioritizing initial access to the Ernie bot for what it calls 650 trading partners in the ecosystem.
Men interact with a Baidu AI robot near the company’s logo at its headquarters in Beijing, China April 23, 2021.
Florence Lo | Reuters
BEIJING — Chinese tech company Baidu on Thursday gave the public a taste of what its Chinese-language ChatGPT alternative can do, while warning of its shortcomings.
During a live release event, Baidu CEO Robin Li pointed out that the company’s product – called Ernie bot – isn’t perfect. Shares fell nearly 6.4% in Hong Kong, amid a broader slide in Asian stocks, and posted their lowest close since Jan. 19.
Li highlighted how the product would improve with the ability of users to provide feedback to him.
Baidu is prioritizing initial access to the Ernie bot for what it calls 650 ecosystem business partners, which include media companies, banks and automakers. Baidu has a large cloud computing company and said its cloud AI users could request access to Ernie bot’s application programming interface.
Within an hour of announcing the Ernie bot, Baidu said 30,000 corporate customers had joined the waiting list to access the chatbot. CNBC, other media and the general public were not immediately granted access.
Microsoft-backed OpenAI this week announced GPT-4, the latest version of the artificial intelligence technology behind its hugely popular ChatGPT chatbot. The bot was initially made available to the public for free in November, and people wanting access to GPT-4 features must pay $20 per month.
ChatGPT is capable of human-like conversation and generates everything from content summaries to business proposals.
Although ChatGPT is free to anyone who can create an account, users had to join a waiting list to try out Microsoft’s Bing AI chatbot, which uses OpenAI technology, launched last month. Some users have reported a scary experience.
Baidu’s Li said the Ernie robot had similar problems if used enough and not perfect. But he noted that the model is trained on a set of 550 billion facts.
The AI is not intended to highlight the rivalry between the United States and China, but the result of Baidu’s efforts to “change the world with technology,” Li said in Mandarin, translated by CNBC.
Baidu shares traded in Hong Kong are still up 12% for the year so far.
Microsoft shares are up about 11% for the year so far, while Class A shares of Google parent Alphabet are up nearly 9%.
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ChatGPT has garnered local interest in China, although it is not officially available in the country. ChatGPT has a function in Chinese, but not at the same level as in English.
Beijing has pushed for national self-sufficiency in technology, while maintaining censorship and tightening data regulations.
Many Chinese companies, other than Baidu, are developing similar technology.
In February, Baidu’s Li told analysts on an earnings call that the company would first integrate its version – Ernie bot – into the company’s search engine and open the product to the public in March.
Li said the company also plans to use AI technology for content creation. Baidu backs one of China’s leading video streaming platforms, iQiyi.
It was not immediately clear how the capabilities of Baidu’s Ernie bot and AI compare to those of ChatGPT.
OpenAI said this week that its GPT-4 can beat 90% of humans on the SAT, a college entrance exam in the United States.