Public's Wait for 'Ernie Bot' Will Be a Bit Longer

China's Baidu decided last second to nix chatbot's public launch in lieu of 'closed-door' meeting
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 27, 2023 9:04 AM CDT
Chinese Firm's Public Launch of Chatbot Goes Private
Baidu CEO Robin Li introduces the functions of Ernie Bot during an event in Beijing on March 16.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Monday was set to be the day when Baidu, China's largest search engine operator, showcased its new "Ernie Bot" via livestream to the media and general public, focusing on how the AI-driven chatbot worked with a smart cloud product. The South China Morning Post reports there was an 11th-hour change, however, as the more public forum was replaced by a "closed-door communications meeting" with possible corporate clients, per a statement from the company. Baidu noted the format tweak was due to "strong demand" from 120,000 or so firms that want to test-drive the bot, reports Al Jazeera.

A session the media can attend will take place at a later date, the company added. Ernie Bot, a service akin to OpenAI's ChatGPT, saw its official rollout on March 16, with only a select few given the chance to put it through its paces. Al Jazeera notes reaction to Ernie's debut was "muted," and that Baidu's attempt to put Ernie up against ChatGPT has faced obstacles due to China's internet censorship. Bumps in the initial launch, led by Baidu CEO Robin Li, included Ernie seemingly not able to generate text when faced with an image. Tests by Reuters also found the bot produced factual errors and steered clear of political questions.

Videos from Monday's shuttered meeting were released afterward showing Ernie Bot "summarizing financial statements and producing PowerPoint presentations," as well as crafting travel itineraries, per Reuters. Investors seemingly weren't thrilled that the live demo for all was yanked at the last minute: Baidu shares plummeted by as much as 4.5% Monday morning. Baidu is the first China-based company to debut a ChatGPT-like technology, though rivals Alibaba, Huawei, and Tencent have similar projects in development. (More Baidu stories.)

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