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China’s Baidu claims its ERNIE chatbot reinvents the computing stack

We're headed for models-as-a-service, apparently, and the OS doesn't matter

Chinese web giant Baidu has launched ERNIEbot, its chatbot based on a large language model, and claimed it represents not just a fine chatbot but also a reinvention of computing.

In a presentation in Chinese, translated in real-time by a human, a Baidu spokesperson described current computing paradigms as relying on three layers – a processor, an operating system, and an application layer.

Baidu believes computing is now moving to a stack that starts with a CPU and/or GPU, with a deep learning framework like Baidu’s own Paddlepaddle machine learning framework in the next tier up.

Tier three is models like the “Big Model” that powers ERNIE, with an application layer atop the stack.

This arrangement apparently means the advent of “models-as-a-service” will soon be upon us, bringing with it a wave of new applications that transform the world of work forever. Especially for knowledge workers.

For now we only have ERNIEBot to consider.

Execs said the bot is imperfect, but that customer demand for chatbots is so high it felt compelled to release the service.

In a presentation in Chinese, Baidu showed off the bot’s ability answer queries such as finding a common point between actors appearing in a television version of Chinese Sci-Fi classic The Three-Body Problem. Realtime human translation of the presentation said two of the performers are within three centimetres in height.

That feat was apparently possible because ERNIE’s knowledge graph contains over 500 billion data points.

Another demo tried to show that off by asking ERNIE to create a brand for a product aimed at small businesses.

Baidu also showed off ERNIE’s ability to perform mathematical calculations with a game of “chicken and a rabbit in a cage” – a puzzle where students are given a number of legs that can be found inside a cage and to infer how many belong to chickens and how many belong to rabbits. ERNIE apparently aced that chore – it was hard to tell from the live translation during the event.

Another demo asked ERNIE to describe a conference based on inputs about its content and location. Text was duly produced, and read by text-to-speech software. The demonstrator then demanded ERNIE produce a video about the conference. That artefact was also produced and readied for download – with the option to re-render it in different regional dialects.

The “ERNIE Big Model” will shortly be made available to developers, and Baidu’s spokespeople said all of its products will be built on the model.

ERNIE itself will soon be online too.

The bot’s interface will look very similar to users of ChatGPT – typed queries produce a block of text, with each successive query pushing its predecessor up the page. ®

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