Chinese search engine giant Baidu on Monday cancelled a planned public launch of its ChatGPT-like product Ernie Bot.
The launch was scheduled to be livestreamed on Monday afternoon. But it was switched to a closed-door meeting with the first batch of companies that are testing the product, Baidu said in a statement on Monday morning.
The format was changed to satisfy the “strong demand” from 120,000 companies that had applied to test Ernie Bot, the company said. This would be the first of many closed-door meetings, the company said.
Baidu previously advertised Ernie Bot as being open to media and the public. The tech giant’s Hong Kong-listed shares fell as much as 4.5% on Monday morning on initial reports of the cancellation.
Ernie Bot, so far China’s closest answer to US-developed ChatGPT, was launched on March 16 by Baidu CEO Robin Li.
Li gave a livestreamed presentation that walked journalists through a series of pre-recorded demos displaying the Chinese chatbot’s different capabilities.
The “scripted” and private launch of the artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbot disappointed investors, who compared it unfavourably with the free-to-use launch of US research lab OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November.
Baidu share price dropped 10% while the presentation was still being livestreamed, but rebounded the following day. That was due in part to strong demand from the Chinese corporate sector for generative AI — the technology that powers products like Ernie Bot and ChatGPT.
Meanwhile, Chinese tech companies and investors are keeping an eye on how Beijing will regulate ChatGPT-like technology.
China’s regulators have already directed the country’s tech firms to not offer ChatGPT services as Beijing claims the chatbot is spreading American government “misinformation”.
However, top Beijing officials have said China sees the potential of ChatGPT-like technology and will push to integrate AI into Chinese society and economy.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena