China tech giant Baidu releases its answer to ChatGPT

China tech giant Baidu releases its answer to ChatGPT

As expected, Ernie Bot (the name means “Enhanced Representation from kNowledge IntEgration;” its Chinese name is 文心一言, or Wenxin Yiyan) perform particularly well in tasks specific to Chinese culture, such as explaining historical facts or writing traditional poetry. (Li said as a Chinese company, Baidu “has to perform better than any pre-trained LLMs” in terms of understanding Chinese.)

But the highlight of the product release is Ernie Bot’s multimodal output feature, which ChatGPT and GPT-4 don’t offer (OpenAI touts GPT-4’s ability to analyze a picture of the fridge’s contents and have recipe suggestions, but the model only generates text). Li showed a recorded interaction with the bot in which it generated a description of a futuristic city transportation system, used Chinese dialect to read a text response, and edited and subtitled a video based on the same text. However, in a final test after the launch, a Chinese publication failed to reproduce the video’s development.

The Chinese public is hungry for a ChatGPT alternative; both OpenAI and the Chinese government have banned individuals in China from using the American chatbot.

But for now, Ernie Bot has only been made available to a select group of Chinese creators. Companies can apply for API access. But Baidu did not say whether the technology would be available for consumers. It’s also unclear when the bot will be integrated into Baidu’s other products, such as its search engine or self-driving cars, as the company has promised.

Compared to the ChatGPT and GPT-4 launches, Ernie Bot’s release seems rushed. The presentation did not feature any live demos but instead used five pre-recorded sessions. Li also reiterated that Ernie is still not perfect and will improve as it reaches more users. Baidu’s stock price fell by 6.4% on Thursdayand social media is full of disappointing reactions.

Li seems ready for such a response. “People have been asking me for a while: Why are you letting go? [Ernie Bot] as soon as possible? Are you ready for this?” he said in his presentation. “I personally saw when doing internal tests with Ernie Bot, it’s not perfect. But why do we want to release it now? Because the market demands it.”

The race to be first

While several ChatGPT-style bots have been released by Chinese companies or researchers, none of them have shown satisfactory results. MOSS, an English-language chatbot developed by researchers at Fudan University in Shanghai, was met with such high demand that its server crashed within a day of launch in late February. It hasn’t returned yet. MiniMax, a Chinese startup, released a chatbot called Inspo earlier this month, but it was suspected just repackaging the GPT-3.5 model developed by OpenAI.

Many people expect Baidu to be the first Chinese company to talk to ChatGPT. In 2019, Baidu released an equivalent of GPT-3—Ernie 3.0. It also came out a decently powerful text-to-image model called Ernie-ViLG last year.