China’s search engine giant Baidu has introduced its own chatbot called Ernie Bot, following the announcement of Microsoft 365’s AI makeover and the debut of GPT-4. Baidu has been widely considered the closest Chinese candidate to build an equivalent to the OpenAI chatbot. Ernie’s launch was much anticipated and Baidu CEO Robin Li gave a one-hour presentation on Ernie that only offered a small glimpse into the chatbot.
Ernie is currently only available for testing through invitation and others need to get on a waitlist. The public was clearly underwhelmed by the presentation. Industry observers inside and outside China pointed to the fact that rather than showcasing Ernie through a live demo, Baidu opted for a lengthy presentation with pre-recordings of Ernie’s answers. The company’s shares slumped as much as 10% in Hong Kong following Li’s presentation.
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In slides, Li presented the prompts for Ernie and its answers in five functional areas: literature writing, business writing, logic and reasoning, Chinese interpretation and multi-modal generation. Ernie was asked to solve the famous “chickens and rabbits” math puzzle, give advice on writing a sequel to the celebrated sci-fi novel “The Three-Body Problem”, suggest names for a large-language model company that helps small-and-medium enterprises digitize, define a traditional Chinese idiom and write a poem based on the phrase and perform “multi-modal” tasks based on the initial prompt.
Baidu did try to demonstrate what Ernie could achieve and the answers were satisfactory; but investors were unimpressed by the carefully orchestrated reveal. One can’t help but wonder if Baidu avoided a live demo due to its lack of confidence and whether it had rushed the launch because of OpenAI’s impressive advancement. Fangbo Tao, CEO and founder of AI startup Mindverse and a former AI scientist at Alibaba and Facebook, echoed the sentiment that to truly leverage Ernie Bot to build an application ecosystem, it may be necessary to demonstrate stronger performance in abilities like reasoning and following instructions.