The battle for AI chatbots has taken another notch after Chinese search giant Baidu revealed its highly anticipated ChatGPT competitor.
The firm showcased Ernie (short for “enhancing representation through knowledge integration”), which analysts believe could be Beijing’s strongest competitor in a crowded field dominated by U.S. companies.
ChatGPT is made by Microsoft-backed OpenAIalthough Google and many ambitious startups are also developing their own so-called large language models.
The growing interest in the technology has sparked a rush by Chinese tech giants to develop their own, with Baidu emerging as the frontrunner last month after announcing that it would launch a technology soon.
But a demonstration at its headquarters met with little enthusiasm, with CEO Robin Li acknowledging that the chatbot wasn’t ready for prime time.
“Of course, we can’t say it’s perfect,” he said.
“Then why are we unveiling it today? Because the market needs it.”
What can Ernie do?
Thursday’s demonstration included many of the signs people are used to Chat GPT.
Shows Ernie answering questions, completing math calculations and understanding different languages.
However, it goes a step further and demonstrates the ability to generate videos and images with text cues.
Baidu Wants Ernie To Revolutionize Its Search Engine Like Microsoft is leveraging OpenAI’s technology in Bing.
How artificial intelligence is changing the way we search the web
But the demo failed to impress investors because everything was shown on pre-recorded video rather than live.
It’s also not public, with limited invite codes available starting Thursday.
However, hundreds of companies have signed up to use the technology, which Baidu says can be used to power smart devices and driverless cars.
Shares plummeted 10% during the presentation. Although they recovered slightly by the end, they still slashed $3bn (£2.5bn) from the company’s market valuation.
“It looks like demos are more like monologues and scripts than the interactive sessions that people are looking for,” said analyst Kai Wang.
“There’s also no soft release date, which could lead to negative sentiment.”
Baidu downplays US competition
In a speech, Baidu boss Li Shufu appeared to praise OpenAI’s technology, saying it showed the barriers to entry for companies hoping to succeed in the field are high.
His speech was broadcast live on multiple platforms, including some that are blocked in China itself, such as YouTube and Twitter.
“Ernie Bot is not a tool for China-US confrontation,” Mr Li added.
The presentation was announced at OpenAI The next iteration of ChatGPT technologyattracting hundreds of millions of users since its launch in late 2022.
Microsoft also hosted an AI event on Thursday, while Google this week said it would bring generative AI to workplace apps like Gmail and Docs.