Chinese search giant Baidu on Thursday introduced its artificial intelligent chatbot ERNIE Bot, with the company’s founder Robin Li demonstrating the capabilities of the chatbot in several pre-recorded clips.

“ERNIE Bot is not a tool for China-US confrontation,” Li said at the launch event, claiming instead that it was the result of Baidu’s years of effort in the field of artificial intelligence.

The chatbot service is currently available by invitation only, but Baidu announced that its cloud computing unit will immediately begin offering application programming interfaces (API) to enterprise clients. The company said that 30,000 corporate users applied for the ERNIE Bot Enterprise Edition API testing within an hour of the launch event, however investors appeared disappointed at the lack of a live demonstration, with Baidu’s stock price dipping slightly before the end of Thursday trading. 

Baidu did not specify when its ERNIE Bot service will be publicly available.

Why it matters: Baidu has become the first major Chinese tech company to unveil a comprehensive AI chatbot service that has the potential to rival ChatGPT, with the launch event taking place just a day after OpenAI released its new AI model GPT-4. 

  • Li highlighted the commercial potential of the chatbot with Baidu’s cloud service saying that ERNIE Bot will “fundamentally change the rules of the game in the cloud computing industry.” He also predicted that Model as a Service (MaaS) would eventually replace Infrastructure as a Service.
  • In 2022, Baidu AI Cloud generated RMB 17.7 billion ($2.57 billion) in revenue, representing a 23% increase compared to the previous year. The figure accounts for 14.3% of Baidu’s full-year revenue.

Details: Li showcased the capabilities of the ERNIE Bot via a series of pre-recorded videos where it was able to perform various tasks including coming up with a name for a newly established company, writing a poem, and generating images as well as videos based on prompts.

  • Li noted that Baidu’s chatbot is good at processing Chinese rather than English. During an earnings call in February, he also mentioned that ERNIE 3.0, the underlying technology of its chatbot, is a “very localized” AI foundation model for the Chinese market.
  • ERNIE Bot is built on Baidu’s deep-learning model ERNIE, which was released in 2019. It currently has 650 companies signed up as ecosystem business partners who will have priority access to it.
  • The absence of a live review during the launch event seemingly disappointed investors, causing Baidu’s Hong Kong shares to decline by 6.36% at the end of Thursday’s session. Despite this setback, the firm’s Hong Kong-listed stock is up nearly 24% so far in 2023.

Context: ERNIE Bot’s launch day landed between two significant events involving other tech giants. US startup OpenAI unveiled its newest and most advanced AI model, GPT-4, without any prior announcement on Wednesday, and Microsoft launched Copilot, an Office suite that utilizes the power of GPT-4, just hours after Baidu’s ERNIE unveiling.

  • ERNIE Bot can be applied to a variety of scenarios and applications, including search, AI cloud, and autonomous driving, Li said in his speech on Thursday.
  • Baidu reportedly prioritized the development of the ERNIE system and diverted all of its “scarce resources” towards it before the rollout. On Friday, local media outlet 36Kr cited several sources as stating that the Beijing-based company was continuing to train the chatbot right up to the press conference, and has yet to finalize discussions over how the service will be monetized.

READ MORE: Alibaba, Baidu, NetEase, iFlytek…Chinese companies rushing to prove they have tech similar to ChatGPT

Cheyenne Dong is a tech reporter now based in Shanghai. She covers e-commerce and retail, AI, and blockchain. Connect with her via e-mail: cheyenne.dong[a]