Though Google is still making strides in the AI chatbot game, China’s Google, Baidu, has unveiled its much anticipated Ernie Bot. The company touts its chatbot as the strongest rival to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. But amid the hype of GPT-4, its popularity and capabilities remain questionable.
ERNIE (Enhanced Representation through Knowledge Integration) is the name of the LLM that was developed by Baidu. Ernie Bot, the chatbot apparently has been into tests for around a decade, according to the Baidu CEO Robin Li in the livestreamed press conference. The company has been actively spending in AI research and development and spent about 21.4 billion yuan ($3.1 billion) in 2022 alone. The firm has been very eager to push ahead of the competition.
While presenting Ernie Bot, Li said that he knows that the bot is not perfect. “So why are we unveiling it today? Because the market demands it,” said Li. Therefore, the model would even be integrated into the search engine as well.
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But what Wall Street Journal calls ‘China’s entry into the global AI race,’ does look decent enough. In the conference, Li showed capabilities of the bot to answer questions, generate posters and videos on a prompt, advise best locations in the city, and summarise famous Chinese science fiction novels.
Another interesting part about the model is that it is bilingual – English and Chinese, and is also multimodal. Apart from language generation, the model also has text-to-image capabilities, which is called ERNIE-ViLG. This new bot is now trained on the third version of the LLM, ERNIE 3.0 Titan, which consists of 260 billion parameters, which is 50% more than that of ChatGPT’s.
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Too Eager to Lose
But well, there are few things that are still dicey. Unlike how OpenAI unveiled ChatGPT live, Baidu demonstrated Ernie Bot’s capabilities through slides. Moreover, when compared to the recent announcement of GPT-4, the model cannot interpret images and generate responses in text. Major miss amid the hype that surrounds this feature.
There is another problem here. The model performs a lot better in Chinese than it does in English. This puts the Chinese bot a hundred miles behind the capabilities of GPT-4. We are increasingly seeing that OpenAI is incorporating different languages in ChatGPT, and English being the first language, the audience is far far larger than that of Ernie.
However, the hype around Ernie hasn’t impressed investors. The shares of the company fell by 10% after it unveiled its AI chatbot. “There is still a lot of uncertainty around Ernie’s capacity,” said Chim Lee, a tech analyst at Economist Intelligence Unit touted the lack of transparency and a pre-demonstrated livestream.
This might not have excited the investors a lot, the Baidu CEO Li, however, has expressed happiness for launching his chatbot ahead of competitors like Google or Meta. Though this “fail first” method is quite famous of OpenAI, taking this approach just for the sake of it might not bode well for the company.
Made in China, for China (for now)
Beijing has strict internet controls and regulations. Since a chatbot like this is based on scraping information from online sources, its operations might get hindered. Baidu has to prove its bot to the Chinese government. The only plus point they have is the hype around these AI models and that OpenAI is restricted in their country.
Just like ERNIE-ViLG, which was launched as a competition to Stable Diffusion and DALL-E, Ernie Bot is also expected to be restricted within its country. The text-to-image model rejects politically sensitive prompts, chances are that the bot will do the same.
However, Chinese companies are great AI masters. The TikTok AI model they gave to the world is a case study in itself, which is still to be cracked. What if Ernie Bot also gives the world its own “Tik-Tok” moment?
But Baidu has to be quick. Other giants like Alibaba and Huawei have also announced plans of bringing out their own chatbots. Maybe these giants would be able to learn from the mistakes of Baidu and tune their chatbots well enough for the global market.