Baidu Unveils New Capabilities for ‘Ernie’ Chatbot in Closed-Door Meeting

Chinese search engine Baidu on Monday shared pre-recorded videos of its AI-powered chatbot Ernie summarizing financial statements and producing powerpoint presentations, among other industry-focused capabilities.

According to images shared by a Baidu spokesperson in a media-facing group on WeChat, China’s most widely used messaging service, the Chinese chatbot has a wider range of skills than previously displayed when it was launched almost two weeks ago.

Back then the ChatGPT-like product was shown to be competent at generating images with text prompts, composing poetry and producing audio in Chinese dialects.

The videos shared on Monday show the chatbot, powered by generative artificial intelligence (AI), producing travel itineraries and virtual, human-like livestreamers that can advertise products using scripts tailored to the user’s needs.

These videos were from a closed-door meeting hosted by Baidu’s AI Cloud division for the first batch of companies that are testing an industry-focused version of the chatbot.

The meeting was originally meant to be a livestreamed product launch open to the media and the public, but the format was changed to prioritize the “strong demand” from over 120,000 companies that had applied to test the Ernie bot, the company said in a statement on. Monday morning, adding this would be the first of many closed-door meetings.

The change, however, caused Baidu’s Hong Kong-listed shares to fall as much as 4.5 percent on Monday morning.

More companies will be able to sign up to test the industry-focused version of the Ernie bot starting on March 31, while the regular version of the app remains open for testing to users lucky enough to get invite codes.

Tests conducted by Reuters show that the regular version has a good command of the Chinese language but produces factual errors and avoids answering political questions.

Ernie bot, so far China’s closest answer to US-developed ChatGPT, was launched on March 16 by Baidu CEO Robin Li, who gave a livestreamed presentation that walked journalists through a series of pre-recorded demos displaying the Chinese chatbot’s different capabilities.

The company’s share price dropped while the presentation was still being livestreamed but rebounded the following day, due in part to strong demand from the Chinese corporate sector.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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