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Baidu’s ChatGPT alternative gets positive reviews for Chinese translations

Ernie Bot, the highly anticipated ChatGPT alternative from Chinese internet search giant Baidu, has received recognition from reviewers for its Chinese language capabilities, reversing initial disappointment and pushing the company’s stock up 15 per cent in Hong Kong on Friday morning.

The jump in share price came in sharp contrast with Thursday, when the price tumbled 6.4 per cent after Baidu unveiled its new artificial intelligence product without a live demonstration. The company also revealed that only select users would initially have access to a beta via invitation codes, but positive reviews started appearing online as more people gained access to the product.

Baidu’s stock on the Nasdaq closed up 3.8 per cent to US$138.16 on Thursday after brokerages had a chance to test the software. Citigroup analysts wrote that Ernie Bot, while not perfect, was able to answer most complicated and even absurd questions.

Baidu’s Ernie Bot debut came in the shadow of OpenAI’s launch the day before of GPT-4, the latest version of the start-up’s large language model. Microsoft, a backer of OpenAI, on Thursday introduced its GPT-4-powered Copilot assistant for its office products like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.

ChatGPT is still primarily powered by OpenAI’s older GPT-3.5 model, but paying ChatGPT Plus users can access GPT-4.

Users who have been invited to test Ernie Bot said that the product has advantages in some areas but lags in others. Compared with GPT-4, it does better in translating English into Chinese, according to tech blogger Web3SkyCity. The blogger tested both services by getting them to translate famous lines by poets William Shakespeare and Robert Frost.

When it comes to translating Chinese to English, however, GPT-4 was better, the Chinese blogger wrote in an article published to WeChat on Friday.

Ernie Bot is also able to provide real-time information, while ChatGPT is limited to data through 2021. When news portal Sina tested both Ernie Bot and ChatGPT, it found that the former could give the next day’s weather, which was “basically the same as what the weather app says”. But ChatGPT is “better at providing knowledge and writing computer code”, the report said.

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 and has up-to-date information.

The blogger found that, unlike Bing, Baidu’s bot did not recognise when questions were follow-ups to previous ones about superconductivity.

One area where Ernie Bot differentiates itself is by generating a range of content, including words, images, audio and even video. OpenAI has a different product called Dall-E for image generation, which uses a modified version of GPT-3.

BusinessAlert said that Ernie managed to produce images of ordinary scenes like a cat eating fish, but it failed when asked to paint a panda having barbecue, according to an article published to WeChat on Thursday.

OpenAI is currently working on using GPT-4 to process and describe images with its Danish partner Be My Eyes, which helps visually impaired people recognise objects.

Baidu did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Ernie Bot reviews.

During the Ernie Bot event in Beijing, Baidu founder and CEO Robin Li Yanhong said that while the new AI product is not perfect, the company is launching it now “because there is market demand”.

Lu Yanxia, China research director for market research firm IDC, said that generative AI, which uses algorithms to create content, “will create a new era for AI technology”, but application of the tech still requires careful assessment given “the relatively low level of technological maturity and high deployment cost”.

Baidu plans to integrate Ernie Bot across all of its existing businesses, starting with its search engine, the largest in China. The company intends to “reshape the way information is generated and presented”, Baidu said.

The technology will also be embedded into other services such as Baidu’s smart speaker Xiaodu, self-driving unit Apollo and video platform iQiyi.

Other Chinese tech giants have joined the generative AI race, as well. Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings are among several Chinese tech firms that have announced plans for their own ChatGPT alternatives. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post. South China Morning Post

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