Chinese tech giant Baidu will use its ChatGPT-like app Ernie Bot to create a “revolutionary” version of its popular search engine, the company’s CEO said on Wednesday.
Baidu is regarded as at the forefront of efforts to create a Chinese rival to the viral artificial intelligence (AI) platform. The company has invested heavily in AI in recent years.
Users would become more dependent on the Baidu search engine once it is embedded with the AI-powered chatbot, company CEO Robin Li told reporters on an earnings call.
“Ernie Bot will … enhance the user experience and users will be much more dependent on us for all kinds of tasks and needs, therefore, significantly expand the market size of search (engines),” Li said.
He added that online advertising, the company’s main source of revenue, would also be boosted by the integration of Ernie Bot into the search engine.
Baidu plans eventually to build an AI ecosystem around Ernie Bot, he said.
‘First mover’ advantage
Li said the generative AI technology underpinning Ernie Bot would be a productivity boon to other businesses and entrepreneurs looking to build their own apps.
Since early February, more than 400 companies have signed up to join the Ernie Bot community as early users of the app, Baidu has said.
Li also said Baidu has an advantage as the “first mover” in China’s market.
He added the company has spent years developing large language models that were trained on the billions of daily search requests inputted by its search engine’s users.
He also said Ernie Bot was “state of the art” among large AI-driven language models in terms of understanding China’s language and culture.
Li’s statements come on the heels of reports that China’s regulators have directed the country’s tech to not offer ChatGPT services. Beijing claims the chatbot developed by US-based OpenAI is spreading American government “misinformation”.
Sliding search business
The details of Li’s vision for the chatbot come amid a gradual decline in the dominance Baidu once enjoyed as the Chinese answer to Alphabet’s Google.
Alphabet pulled its Google search engine out of the Chinese market in 2010.
Tencent’s all-in-one messaging app, WeChat, and Bytedance’s Douyin are among the competitors that have chipped away at Baidu’s market share in recent years.
The company has created new revenue streams by expanding its core business to include AI, cloud services and autonomous driving, as well as pouring money into research and development.
Dozens of Chinese tech companies, including e-commerce giants Alibaba, Tencent and JD.Com, have announced plans to develop their own ChatGPT-style tools.
While OpenAI and ChatGPT are not blocked by Chinese authorities, OpenAI does not allow users in mainland China, Hong Kong, Iran, Russia and parts of Africa to sign up.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena