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The backstory: Generative artificial intelligence (AI), like OpenAI's ChatGPT, has been gaining popularity worldwide since last November. But it's important to note that this technology wasn't really available in China. That prompted Chinese tech giants to consider launching their own generative AI services in China, the world's largest internet market.
Now the country has at least 130 large language models, accounting for 40% of the global total, second only to the US at 50%. This data, provided by brokerage firm CLSA, shows China's tech advancements.
One of the prominent players in this field is Baidu, the company that owns China's top internet search engine. Baidu made headlines in March when it introduced ERNIE Bot, its answer to ChatGPT. ERNIE got a lot of attention, snagging around 45 million users since its public launch. But Baidu isn't the only player. Others, like Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance, are also entering the generative AI arena in China.
More recently: In August, Baidu received the green light from the Chinese government to release its AI products to the public. Just last week, Beijing rolled out a set of proposed security rules targeting companies that use AI. These rules also contain a list of off-limits sources for training AI models.
The development: On Tuesday, Baidu introduced ERNIE 4.0, the latest version of its generative AI model, saying it’s just as good as OpenAI’s GPT-4. At an event in Beijing, CEO Robin Li demonstrated the new model, highlighting its memory capabilities and showing it writing a martial arts novel live. ERNIE 4.0 also showed off its creative prowess by designing advertising materials in real time.
A noteworthy addition is the integration of ERNIE 4.0 into Baidu's mapping service, Baidu Map. This turbocharges the mapping experience, allowing users to navigate the map using natural language queries. This is a leap from the old days when users had to wade through a maze of options. With this move, Baidu positions itself as a formidable player in the AI game, directly challenging OpenAI's GPT-4.
The new ERNIE Bot “is not inferior in any aspect to GPT-4,” said Baidu CEO Robin Li at the event.
"We should see significant improvements once ERNIE 4.0 is used hands-on, but concrete upgrades aren't immediately clear," said Lu Yanxia, an analyst at industry consultancy IDC, in response to the demonstration of the new model.
"Technological innovation has become the main battleground of the global playing field and competition for tech dominance will grow unprecedentedly fierce," Chinese President Xi Jinping said in 2021.
"We are thrilled to share that ERNIE Bot is now fully open to the general public starting August 31," said Baidu in August. "In addition to ERNIE Bot, Baidu is set to launch a suite of new AI-native apps that allow users to fully experience the four core abilities of generative AI: understanding, generation, reasoning and memory."