China’s Baidu has launched its ChatGPT rival, ERNIE Bot, to the public in a major move for the country’s tech sector, which aims to cash in on the artificial intelligence gold rush.
The Chinese government this month introduced new regulations for AI developers, aimed at allowing them to stay in the race with the creators of ChatGPT, OpenAI and Microsoft, while tightly controlling information online.
ERNIE Bot is the first domestic AI application to be fully publicly available in China. It is not available outside the country.
“We are excited to announce that ERNIE Bot is now fully open to the general public starting August 31,” Baidu said in a statement Thursday.
“In addition to ERNIE Bot, Baidu is set to launch a suite of new native AI applications that will allow users to take full advantage of the four fundamental capabilities of generative AI: understanding, generation, reasoning and memory.
The chatbot was released in March but its availability was limited.
By making it widely available, Baidu will be able to get “massive” human feedback to improve the app at a rapid pace, CEO Robin Li said in the release.
Generative AI applications, including chatbots such as ERNIE Bot, are trained on large amounts of data as well as their interactions with users so that they can answer even the most complex questions with a language similar to that of a human.
Chinese generative AI applications must “adhere to the core values of socialism” and refrain from threatening national security, according to guidelines released this month.
Tested on Thursday by the AFP news agency, ERNIE Bot easily answered banal questions such as “What is the capital of China?” » and “Do you have any hobbies?”.
But on sensitive topics such as China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, he said: “Let’s change the subject and start again.” »
Public discussion of Tiananmen is banned in China and online information about the incident is strictly censored.
Asked about Taiwan, a self-governing island that China claims as its territory, ERNIE Bot offered a longer answer.
“Taiwan is part of the sacred territory of the People’s Republic of China,” he replied. “China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity cannot be violated or divided.”
Then he said, “Let’s talk about something else.” »
And to the question “Can we discuss any topic freely?” », ERNIE Bot replied:
“Yes, we can talk about anything you want. Please note, however, that some topics may be sensitive or involve legal issues and are therefore your own responsibility.
The rapid success of US company OpenAI’s ChatGPT – which is banned in China – has sparked an international race to develop competing applications, including image and video generators, but has also sparked widespread concern about the potential for abuse and misinformation.
Under Chinese regulations, AI developers must conduct safety assessments and submit dossiers on their algorithms to authorities if their software is deemed to have an impact on “public opinion,” according to the rules.
They are also required to label AI-generated content.
Baidu is one of China’s largest technology companies, but it faces competition from other companies, such as Tencent, in various sectors.
In addition to AI, the company has also sought to expand its cloud computing business and develop autonomous driving technology.
Baidu shares were up 3.3% in Hong Kong as of 0330 GMT on Thursday.
Bloomberg reported that another Chinese tech titan, Hong Kong-listed SenseTime, also received the green light from Beijing for its service.