Baidu launches China's initial ChatGPT-like AI chatbot, Ernie, which breaks record hours after launch

September 04, 2023: On Thursday, Baidu launched China’s initial ChatGPT-like AI chatbot, Ernie, breaking record hours after launch.

Baidu’s Hong Kong-listed claims increased by over 3% in morning trade.

The news signaled a green light from Beijing and another indication of a more relaxed policy stance on artificial intelligence.

Baidu released Ernie bot on March 16. Initial access was limited to the company’s business partners and individuals who had first joined a waitlist whose numbers swelled to over 1.2 million before Baidu stopped disclosing them.

Chinese companies have rushed to announce generative AI projects since OpenAI’s ChatGPT surged in popularity worldwide earlier this year. ChatGPT isn’t officially allowed in China, where access to Google and Facebook is blocked.

The rules said they would only apply to firms developing AI tech if the product were available to the mass public. That’s more relaxed than a draft released in April that said forthcoming rules would apply even at the research stage.

The latest version of the rules also did not include a blanket license requirement, only saying that one was needed if stipulated by law and regulations. It did not specify which ones.

China has generally increased regulation on personal data protection and network security.

During an earnings call last week, Baidu CEO Robin Li called the new rules “more pro-innovation than law” and said the company was “quite optimistic about the future for a better regulatory environment.”

At the time, Li said the company was “still waiting for the green light for a large-scale rollout of Ernie bot for use in consumer-facing apps.”

Other Chinese companies, including Alibaba, have released many generative AI products.

Last week, Opera web browser parent Kunlun Tech released an AI-powered chatbot and search engine called Tiangong AI Search to the public. The company reached out to Microsoft Bing’s integration with OpenAI since Tiangong also provides internet links with its results.

Previously, most AI products in China were only available for corporate partners’ inner use.

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