Baidu, the search engine giant in China that emerged as a leading AI company in recent years, has announced a ChatGPT-like tool dubbed “Ernie Bot”. The project is currently undergoing internal testing and is expecting a public launch in March this year.
Baidu shares surged 15% (at the time of writing) after the announcement, which came after Microsoft-backed OpenAI’s ChatGPT became phenomenal. Google has also announced its ChatGPT-like project recently, dubbed Bard AI.
"Over the past year, artificial intelligence has made great progress both in terms of technology and commercial application, and some have even changed direction," said Robin Li Yanhong, CEO of Baidu, at the opening ceremony of the 2022 World Artificial Intelligence Conference in September last year.
According to Li at the time, some of the images and videos on the Baidu App were already generated based on AIGC capabilities. AI had moved from understanding language, text, images, and videos to generating content. "AIGC will revolutionize the existing content production model, creating unique and independent content at a fraction of the cost and a hundred to a thousand times faster production speed,” Li remarked.
Ernie Bot is named after Baidu’s ERNIE pre-training language model, which stands for Enhanced Representation through kNowledge IntEgration). The bot is called Wenxin Yiyan in Chinese. Baidu has previously launched a series of AI products under the “Wenxin” umbrella, including the industrial-level search engine “Wenxin Baizhong”, and the AI text-to-image tool “Wenxin Yige”.
When asked about how can an AI tool balance the creativity and accuracy of information retrieval required when using search engines, Wu Hua, the technical chief of Baidu's natural-language processing department and the president of the Baidu Technical Committee, listed three key points:
“Firstly, in terms of creative generation and personalized content satisfaction, for example, writing a composition, we can provide new content and perspectives, which is indeed a complement to the original ecosystem. Secondly, accurate content can be retrieved through the search engine, and on this basis, we can do in-depth integration. The model of retrieval and then production ensures the controllability of the content. In addition, there is a particularly important aspect of timeliness. When a new event occurs, a depth analysis can be given from different perspectives.”
Baidu placed its bet on AI and natural language processing technology before introducing Ernie Bot. In November 2021, Baidu announced its PLATO-XL, an AI Chatbot, without the analysis and computing capabilities that a ChatGPT-styled tool would require. PLATO-XL has trained on over a billion samples collected from social media conversations in both English and Chinese and developed them based on their PaddlePaddle deep-learning platform.