The battle for AI chatbots has intensified after Chinese search giant Baidu unveiled its highly anticipated rival at ChatGPT.
The company introduced Ernie (short for “representation enhanced by knowledge integration”), who analysts say could be Beijing’s strongest competitor in a crowded field dominated by American companies.
ChatGPT is created by OpenAI supported by Microsoftwhile Google and a multitude of ambitious startups also develop their own so-called grand language models.
Growing interest in the technology has sparked a rush among Chinese tech giants to develop their own, and Baidu has been the favorite after announcing last month that it would soon have one ready for launch.
But a presentation at his headquarters met with little enthusiasm, with chief executive Robin Li admitting the chatbot was not ready for prime time.
“Of course, we can’t say it’s perfect,” he said.
“So why are we unveiling it today? Because the market demands it.”
What can Ernie do?
Thursday’s protest included many features of what people have grown accustomed to with ChatGPT.
Ernie was shown answering questions, doing math calculations, and understanding different languages.
However, it also went a step further by featuring an ability to generate videos and images with text prompts.
Baidu wants Ernie to revolutionize its search engine, just like Microsoft leverages OpenAI technology in Bing.
How AI could change the way we search the web
But the demonstration failed to thrill investors, as everything was shown in pre-recorded videos rather than live.
It’s also not available to the public, with limited invite codes starting Thursday.
However, hundreds of companies have signed up to use the technology, which Baidu says could be used to power smart devices and driverless cars.
The shares fell 10% during the presentation. Although they rallied slightly at the end, it still took $3bn (£2.5bn) off the company’s market valuation.
Analyst Kai Wang said, “It seems like the presentation was more of a monologue and a storyline, rather than an interactive session that people were looking for.
“There was also no soft launch date, which likely led to some negative sentiment.”
Baidu downplays US rivalry
Baidu boss Mr Li appeared to compliment OpenAI’s technology during his presentation, saying it showed the threshold was high for companies looking to succeed in the space.
His speech was streamed live on a number of platforms, some of which are blocked in China itself, such as YouTube and Twitter.
“Ernie Bot is not a tool of confrontation between China and the United States,” Li added.
The presentation came a few days after the announcement of OpenAI next iteration of the technology that powers ChatGPTwhich has attracted hundreds of millions of users since its launch in late 2022.
Microsoft is also hosting an AI event on Thursday, while Google said this week it will bring generative AI to work apps like Gmail and Docs.