“Let’s talk about China’s New Chatbot.”
This is the usual answer you get from China’s newest character, Ernie, if you ask him “difficult” questions.
The chatbot, launched by search engine giant Baidu, can attack anything deemed too sensitive.
Ernie, billed as Baidu’s answer to ChatGPT, has been introduced with great fanfare in recent weeks, sending the company’s stock soaring. Baidu said it received 33.42 million user inquiries in the first 24 hours of operation, an average of 23,000 inquiries per minute.China’s New Chatbot
Another Chinese tech giant, Tencent, announced on Thursday that it has also launched a chatbot. However, this is currently only available to “guest users” – this seems to mainly concern businesses.
But if Ernie’s track record so far has been nothing short of remarkable, Tencent’s version also risks being significantly hampered by China’s authoritarian censorship regime – which also affects social media, chat apps and all kinds of other online behavior.China’s New Chatbot
For example, Ernie seemed confused by the question: “Why won’t Xi Jinping attend the upcoming G20 meeting?” He responded by linking to the Chinese leader’s official profile.
Another question: “Is the Chinese government’s halt in releasing data on youth unemployment a sign of weakness? – present the answer: “Sorry! I don’t know how to answer this question yet.”
Ernie has learned to be wary of controversial words and phrases. So when you ask “Is Xinjiang a good place?” and “Is Tibet a good place?”, he will tell you again that he does not yet know how to answer these questions.
The United Nations has accused the government of “serious human rights violations” against Uighur Muslims in the country’s northwestern Xinjiang province. Human rights groups also accuse the government of oppressing Tibetans. Beijing denies both of these claims. China’s New Chatbot
Maybetosomeextent,technology is not yetadvanced enough to answer such questions. However, in other cases, Ernie clearlyseemed to be dodging questions.
When asked whether Xi Jinping or his predecessor Hu Jintao were sick, he would reply: “Let’s talk about something else.”
By entering the date of the Tiananmen crackdown (June 4, 1989), or the name of a former high-ranking Communist Party official who is imprisoned (Bo Xilai), or the name of the Chinese usurper Nobel Peace Prize winner died in prison (Liu Xiaobo), we also received a response: “Let’s talk about something else”.
Baidu did not respond to the BBC’s questions about the extent of chatbot censorship in China.
But the company’s CEO and co-founder, Robin Li, said in an email that “Baidu will collect enormous and valuable real-world human feedback.” Ultimately, this not only improves Baidu’s core model but also iterates on Ernie Bot at a much faster rate. resulting in a superior user experience.China’s New Chatbot
The company was quick to point out that the chatbot is just one part of a suite of AI services it is developing as part of the Ernie model. “ERNIE 4.0 will enable entrepreneurs to pioneer revolutionary applications of AI in our time,” said Li.China’s New Chatbot
The focus on empowering entrepreneurs points to a possible direction for the use of this technology.
George Washington University professor Jeffrey Ding said: “China’s recent regulations on AI models create strict requirements for services that possess ‘public opinion characteristics’ or the ability to influence to a social point of view”.China’s New Chatbot
He added that this “could push companies to develop apps aimed more at professional applications than at the general public.”
Professor Ding also said that due to many technical reasons related to data quality and research direction, there is still a significant gap in quality between Chinese models such as Ernie Bot and OpenAI’s ChatGPT. In August, nearly a dozen so-called artificial general intelligence services were licensed to operate in China.China’s New Chatbot
But the Cyberspace Administration of China ruled that they must “reflect core socialist values” and avoid disseminating information that undermines “state power” or “national unity.” .But the Cyberspace Administration of China ruled that they must “reflect core socialist values” and avoid disseminating information that undermines “state power” or “national unity.” .China’s New Chatbot
Baidu is counting on its new bot to bring in major funding. The company’s search engine dominates the Chinese internet, accounting for more than 90% of searches every day – but has lagged behind other tech companies in recent years.China’s New Chatbot
As users turned to other platforms, Baidu lost advertising revenue to larger competitors. The company is also testing self-driving taxis and is the country’s largest cloud service provider, but Ernie is their new hope.
Ernie has received a lot of attention, but several other competing chatbots are also already live or coming online soon.
As with other technology wars in China, not all products will survive. But Baidu really has to win this battle.