Baidu reveals its chatbot Ernit bot

Happily for Baidu, Ernie bot did not crash on debut.

Photo by Fan Jianlei

Photo by Fan Jianlei

By CUI Peng, SHE Xiaochen


Baidu's shares on the HKEX plummeted as much as 10 percent on Thursday afternoon after the search engine giant gave the world its first official look at a ChatGPT-style service, Ernie bot (Wen Xin Yi Yan).

In an unfortunate quirk of timing, just one day before Baidu’s big party, OpenAI had promenaded GPT-4 before an awestruck world.

Stunned, and not in a good way

It was Baidu boss Robin Li himself who introduced Ernie to a startlingly unimpressed world.

The billionaire was shown solving tricky math problems with the help of his chatty new friend. Ernie came up with suggestions for a sequel to the best-selling Chinese science-fiction novel The Three Body Problem. Ernie magicked up some creative PR material and rattled off a few well-chosen Chinese idioms.

The whole performance was a bit of a letdown. Ernie does not, it turns out, feel ready to demonstrate his skills in front of a live audience. None of his tricks were shown in real-time during the event, but only in prerecorded videos. The entire show – essentially Li talking to himself – was singularly unimpressive.

After more than a month featuring a lot of very shouty publicity, the actual debut of the chatbot turned out not to be much more than an unusually nervous Li stammering about flaws in his own software.

Clearly agitated, Li could not overemphasize what the assembled press could clearly see - Ernie Bot has an awfully long way to go.

“I won’t say we are fully ready,” said Li, and he was right. “Measuring Ernie bot against ChatGPT or even GPT-4 is a very high bar. No big tech around the world has made it so far. Baidu is the first one.”

Plenty of room for improvement

A high bar indeed, and one Ernie has flopped embarrassingly under. Ernie has many tweaks to come if he gets even high enough to crash into the bar and dislodge it.

The data used to train Ernie bot comes from web pages and searches processed by Baidu every day.

The first batch of accepted users can access Ernie via invitation only, Baidu said. Companies that want to use Ernie’s ever-improving services - more than 650 of them before the unveiling - may book online.