Baidu's ERNIE chatbot has nothing to say about Xi Jinping

Bot also botches some requests, but is about to be baked into cloud services anyway

Fresh from the launch of its large language model-based chatbot, ERNIE, Chinese web giant Baidu is rolling out of a cloud service integrated with the AI tool.

Baidu told The Register that beginning March 27th, “enterprises of different types can choose cloud services and products based on their own needs, enabling them to conveniently, quickly, and cost-effectively build their own models and applications.”

ERNIE which launched last week, is China’s answer to ChatGPT. A Chinese language version of the chatbot has been highly anticipated. Interest among the populace has been so high that a would-be contender launched by Fudan University crashed within hours. ERNIE’s waitlist of would-be users currently sits at over 870,000.

The bot-maker is currently taking enterprise applications for the ERNIE Bot API testing. Baidu told The Reg that within four days of unveiling ERNIE, 21 enterprises signed cooperation agreements with Baidu on the bot, and over 100,000 enterprises applied for the ERNIE Bot API service.

Those users might not be entirely happy once they get their hands on ERNIE, because reports have suggested the bot is flawed.

In all fairness, the English version of ChatGPT also has provided results ranging from terrifying to hilarious.

But as far as ERNIE is concerned, its talents reportedly lie in activities such as generating images of flowers and Tang dynasty-style poetry.

Reuters secured access to ERNIE and found that when it comes to answering questions about Chinese President Xi Jingping, it is oddly silent. Questions on politically sensitive material, such as Tiananmen Square or the treatment of the Uyghur population were declined or met with suggestions to change the subject.

“Relatively objectively, I would give ERNIE Bot a passing score of 65 points. It’s very courageous of Baidu to release the product, distribute invitation codes for testing, and let everyone have a try. I hope they can quickly expand the testing scope, iterate the product, and integrate it into domestic commercial scenarios as soon as possible,” said a Chinese language review on a local Q&A forum website.

ERNIE isn't Baidu's only recent AI announcement: last week the Chinese tech company also announced it had won a permit to provide fully autonomous ride-hailing services in Beijing, Wuhan and Chongqing. The robotaxis are not required to have human drivers nor safety operators in the car.

“With the permits, Baidu Apollo will deploy a total of 10 fully driverless vehicles in Beijing Yizhuang Economic Development Zone,” said Baidu. ®

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