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Baidu to roll out cloud service integrated with Ernie Bot

Chinese search giant Baidu, which hit the market last week with its ChatGPT alternative named Ernie Bot, is set to launch a cloud service with integration of the generative artificial intelligence-powered chatbot and related products next week.

The next step in Ernie Bot’s roll-out will “allow enterprises of different types to select the appropriate cloud services and products based on their needs, and build their own models and applications conveniently, quickly and cost-effectively”, the company said in a statement on Monday.

Since its debut last Thursday, Ernie Bot has offered limited access to a select group of individuals at the front of a long queue, while potential corporate clients need to wait for an application programming interface (API), a tool that allows software to connect to the chatbot.

There were more than 877,000 potential users on a wait-list for the AI chatbot as of Monday afternoon, according to Ernie Bot’s official website, while more than 100,000 companies have applied for an API, the company said.

Baidu is the first major Chinese tech company to reveal a competitor to ChatGPT, the OpenAI chatbot that has made headlines across the world since its launch in November. It is not officially available in China, although some users have tapped VPNs to access the bot.

A comparative test of Ernie Bot and ChatGPT by the Post showed mixed results when tackling questions about China.

When asked to introduce the South China Morning Post, Ernie Bot said it is a Chinese language newspaper founded as a joint venture by AsiaSat and Dow Jones in 1995, none of which is factually correct.

In contrast, ChatGPT correctly answered that the publication, an English newspaper in Hong Kong, was established in 1903. But ChatGPT also mistakenly suggested that the Chinese news service of British newspaper The Guardian is a subsidiary of the Post.

Ernie Bot provided a brief overview when asked about Chinese political figures, the Post found.

owever the chatbot, which usually allows follow-up questions, asked users to “start over with a different topic in a new conversation” when the line included names like Chinese President Xi Jinping, newly-elected premier Li Qiang, Li’s predecessor Li Keqiang and Mao Zedong, who led the Communist Party to found the People’s Republic of China.

In comparison, ChatGPT correctly introduced those politicians and allowed longer follow-up questions.

Baidu did not immediately respond to a request for comment about this issue.

Baidu chief executive Robin Li Yanhong said last week that based on his experience, “I can’t say it [Ernie Bot] is perfect”.

Baidu shares initially fell by as much as 10 per cent in Hong Kong during last Thursday’s debut of Ernie Bot, after a pre-recorded demonstration of the technology was deemed lacklustre. The stock has since revived, with a 15 per cent gain over the past two trading days as reviews have turned more positive.

Compared with GPT-4, OpenAI’s latest large language model, Baidu’s technology does better when translating English into Chinese, according to tech blogger Web3SkyCity. Ernie Bot is also able to provide real-time information, while ChatGPT is limited to data through to 2021, according to news portal Sina.

Another blogger using the handle BusinessAlert compared Ernie Bot with Bing, the Microsoft search engine that now allows some users to interact with it using GPT-4.

The blogger found that, unlike Bing, Baidu’s bot failed to recognise questions that were follow-ups to a previous discussion on superconductivity.

Baidu shares closed up 0.91 per cent to HK$143.50 (US$18.30) in Hong Kong on Monday. South China Morning Post

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