Baidu boss says good luck talking AI to Beijing if you don't understand censorship
Unlike AI's output, the web giant's profits are not hallucinatory
Chinese web and AI giant Baidu has suggested its long experience of working with local regulators means it, unlike others, is ideally positioned to bring artificial intelligence services to the Middle Kingdom.
Speaking on the conglomerate's Q1 earnings call, CEO and co-founder Robin Li told investors the recently-released Ernie generative AI chatbot has been well received by customers and regulators alike.
"To comply with regulatory requirements any new technology, product or service must undergo government review and approval before large scale deployment," Li explained.
"During our testing of Ernie Bot, we have engaged in close discussions with regulators [and] found that the principles of content review or generative AI are quite similar to those applied to search."
Along the way, Baidu learned that "For important and sensitive topics, we have to make sure AI will not hallucinate" – a term used for chatbots frequently presenting falsehoods.
China recently announced regulations for generative AI that include a requirement for its output to reflect the party line. Li embraced that approach. "We believe that regulators are actively engaged in generative AI in the early stage while raising the bar to entry and we are well positioned for that," he said.
"Baidu has been operating search in China for more than 20 years and has extensive experience with Chinese culture and regulatory environment, which we believe will help us navigate the regulatory landscape," he added.
"Overall, we are thrilled about the prospects that lie ahead with Ernie Bot," he enthused.
But good luck to any of you hoping to use non-Chinese AI in apps to serve users behind the Great Firewall. Google and Bing – neither of which is accessible in China – can also shelve any plans for an AI-inspired comeback. OpenAI can probably forget China entirely for the forseeable future.
Li was also happy to report that Baidu's cloud – which is named "AI Cloud" even though it also offers vanilla IaaS and PaaS – turned its first profit. The CIO explained that "phasing out low-quality projects and businesses" helped to make that possible – the same route rival Tencent took when trying to turn around its cloud.
- China reportedly let AI control a satellite, which then observed rivals India and Japan
- Baidu sues Apple and anyone else in sight over ERNIE chatbot fakes
- Baidu's AI chatbot ducks out of public demo
- Chinese web giant Baidu backs RISC-V for the datacenter
Tencent does not detail the performance of its cloud business but has reported that increased sales of some cloud services contributed to a return to positive growth for its business services unit.
Both companies are in rude health. Baidu reported Q1 revenue of $4.5 billion, up ten percent, and net income of $848 million compared to an $885 million loss in the same period of 2022.
Tencent posted quarterly revenue of $21.1 billion, and operating profit of $7 billion – year-on-year growth of 11 percent and 32 percent respectively. The giant's key WeChat service topped 1.3 billion monthly active users, and its QQ.com messaging service recorded 597 million users. Growth was slow for both, so Tencent is a long way behind Meta's combined audience. But Tencent's products are more deeply interwoven into commercial services. ®