Baidu’s Ernie bot can within seconds generate pictures of flowers and write Tang dynasty-style poems but will decline questions about Chinese President Xi Jinping by saying it has not yet learnt how to answer them, Reuters tests showed.
On Monday, Reuters posed several questions to Ernie on Xi, including whether he was a good leader, his contributions to China, and a request for a poem and portrait of him.
To some of these queries, Ernie responded with a two-paragraph description of Xi’s education and roles. However, the AI-powered chatbot declined to answer most of them.
“As an AI large-scale language model, I have not learnt how to answer that question, you can ask me some other questions, I will do my best to help you solve them,” the bot said.
Ernie bot responded in a similar manner to questions about China’s 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and the treatment by authorities of the Uyghur Muslim ethnic minority in the western region of Xinjiang.
At times, it suggested the user switch topics.
“Let’s change the subject and start again,” read a prompt Reuters received over a dozen times in response to sensitive questions.
Baidu did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sensitive issues off-limits
Such answers were not confined to Xi or topics sensitive in China. The Ernie bot would also produce the same restart prompts when asked similar questions about US President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump.
The bot however, was able to give long answers to some questions about international relations, such as why US-China relations have deteriorated. It changed subjects again when asked about more controversial questions, such as whether China should use military force to reunify with Taiwan.
The strict limits on political discussion are in line with Baidu’s compliance with requests made by the government to censor the results of searches on sensitive topics.
When asked how it approaches sensitive issues, the bot said that it took into account the “relevant laws and moral standards” when judging if a topic can be “openly discussed”.
Baidu CEO Robin Li, when unveiling Ernie bot last week, said the chatbot was not perfect.
Li called for users to be understanding of its mistakes, adding that the chatbot would improve exponentially with user feedback.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena