China’s leading search engine, Baidu, has launched ERNIE Bot, the country’s first AI chatbot, for public use. This move marks a significant milestone for the Chinese tech sector as it aims to capitalize on the growing artificial intelligence (AI) industry. The Chinese government recently introduced new regulations for AI developers, allowing them to compete with global players like OpenAI and Microsoft while maintaining strict control over online information.
ERNIE Bot is the first domestic AI application to be fully accessible to the public in China, although it is not available outside the country. Baidu announced that ERNIE Bot was now open to the general public as of August 31. Additionally, Baidu plans to release a suite of new AI-native apps that will enable users to experience the four core abilities of generative AI: understanding, generation, reasoning, and memory.
Although ERNIE Bot was initially released in March, its availability was limited. By making it widely accessible, Baidu aims to gather extensive human feedback to improve the app at a rapid pace. Baidu’s CEO, Robin Li, highlighted the importance of this feedback in enhancing the functionality and effectiveness of ERNIE Bot.
Generative AI apps, including chatbots like ERNIE, are trained on large datasets and their interactions with users. This enables them to provide human-like responses, including answers to complex questions. However, Chinese generative AI apps must adhere to the core values of socialism and avoid any activity that may threaten national security, according to the guidelines issued by the Chinese government.
When tested, ERNIE Bot easily answered basic questions such as identifying the capital of China and hobbies. However, on sensitive topics such as the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, ERNIE Bot declined to provide a response and redirected the conversation. Public discussions about the Tiananmen incident are forbidden in China, with strict censorship in place.
The success of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which is banned in China, prompted a global race among developers to create rival apps, leading to concerns about potential abuse and misinformation. The Chinese regulations require AI developers to conduct security assessments and submit their algorithms for approval if their software has an impact on public opinion. They are also required to label AI-generated content.
Baidu, one of China’s largest tech companies, has been expanding its presence in various sectors, including cloud computing and autonomous driving technology. In addition to AI, Baidu has sought to strengthen its position in the market amidst competition from other Chinese firms like Tencent.
The launch of ERNIE Bot emphasizes China’s commitment to driving innovation in the AI field and demonstrates its determination to stay ahead in the global AI race. Baidu’s shares rose by 3.3 percent following the announcement, indicating positive market sentiment towards the company’s developments. Another major Chinese tech player, SenseTime, has also gained approval from Beijing for its AI service.
As China embraces AI technology, it continues to strike a balance between technological advancement and societal interests. The regulations aim to ensure responsible AI development while safeguarding national security and controlling online information. The launch of ERNIE Bot signifies China’s growing influence in the AI landscape and its ambition to shape the future of this transformative technology.