April 17, 2024

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Chinese tech giant Baidu is officially taking on GPT-4.

On Tuesday, the company unveiled ERNIE 4.0, the newest version of its artificial intelligence chatbot that it directly compared to the latest iteration of OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

The new ERNIE Bot “is not inferior in any aspect to GPT-4,” Baidu’s billionaire CEO, Robin Li, told an audience at its annual flagship event.

Speaking onstage, Li showed how the bot could generate a commercial for a car within minutes, solve complicated math problems and create a plot for a martial arts novel from scratch. The bot works mainly in Mandarin Chinese, its primary language. It is also able to handle queries and produce responses in English at a less advanced level.

Li said the demonstrations showed how the bot had been “significantly improved” in terms of its understanding of queries, generation of complex responses and memory capabilities.

Baidu CEO Robin Li announcing an upgrade of ERNIE Bot, its generative AI chatbot.

While coming up with ideas for the novel, for instance, the bot was able to remember previous instructions and create sophisticated story lines by adding conflicts and characters, said Li.

“We always complained that AI was not intelligent enough,” he quipped.

“But today, it understands almost everything you say, and in many cases, it understands what you’re saying better than your friends or your colleagues.”

Charlie Dai, vice president and research director of technology at Forrester, said Baidu is “the first vendor in China” to claim it could perform as well as GPT-4.

“We still need more benchmarking evidence to prove it, but I’m cautiously optimistic that this is China’s GPT-4 moment, giving its long-term investment in AI [and machine learning],” he told CNN.

In contrast to a pre-recorded presentation in March that failed to impress investors, Li demonstrated the bot in real time.

Investors appeared unmoved, however, with Baidu’s shares down 1.4% in Hong Kong following the presentation.

Baidu (BIDU) has been a frontrunner in China in the race to capitalize on the excitement around generative AI, the technology that underpins systems such as ChatGPT or its successor, GPT-4.

The Beijing-based company unveiled ERNIE Bot in March, before launching it publicly in August.

The newest iteration will launch first to invited users, Li said. The company did not specify when it would be made available publicly.

ERNIE Bot has quickly gained traction, racking up more than 45 million users after reaching the top of Chinese app stores at one point, according to the company. ChatGPT, which was released last November, surpassed 100 million users in its first two months, according to a March report by Goldman Sachs analysts.

Baidu faces competition within China, from companies such as Alibaba (BABA) and SenseTime, which have also shown off their own ChatGPT-style tools.

Baidu says its service stands out because of its advanced grasp of Chinese queries, as well as its ability to generate different types of responses, such as video and audio.

By comparison, GPT-4 is also able to analyze photos, but currently only generates text responses, according to its developer, OpenAI.

Baidu is a market leader in China, said Dai.

But the competition in this space “has just begun, and AI tech leaders like Alibaba … Huawei, JD Cloud, SenseTime, and Tencent all have chance to take the lead,” he noted.

Some critics say the new offerings from Chinese firms will add fuel to an existing US-China rivalry in emerging technologies. Li has tried to shake off that comparison, saying previously that the company’s platform “is not a tool for the confrontation between China and the United States.”

But Baidu has previously touted how ERNIE can outperform ChatGPT in some instances, saying its bot had scored higher marks than OpenAI’s on some academic exams.

The Chinese company also announced Tuesday it had updated its suite of services to integrate the latest upgrades from ERNIE. Baidu’s popular search engine is now able to use the tool to produce more specific results, while its mobile mapping app can help users book services, such as taxis, according to Li.

By doing so, “Baidu is also the first Chinese tech leader that has made substantial progress in modernizing the majority of its products” with an AI model, said Dai.

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