Baidu’s ChatGPT-like app will revolutionize the search engine, CEO says
Written by Eduardo Baptista
BEIJING, Feb 23 (Reuters) – China’s Baidu Inc is using its ChatGPT-like app Ernie Bot to create a “revolutionary” version of its popular search engine, the company’s chief executive said on Wednesday.
Baidu, which has invested heavily in artificial intelligence in recent years, is at the forefront of efforts to create a Chinese rival to the artificial intelligence platform developed by OpenAI and backed by Microsoft Corp.
Ahead of Ernie Bot’s launch in March, Baidu CEO Robin Li told reporters on a conference call to discuss its fourth-quarter results that users are more dependent on Baidu’s search engine when it’s embedded in the chatbot. This is because generative AI enhances user experience and engagement.
“Ernie Bot… will improve the user experience, and users will depend on us much more for all kinds of tasks and needs, so it will greatly expand the search engine (engine) market,” Li said.
He added that online advertising, which is the company’s main source of income, will also be boosted by the integration of Ernie Bot into the search engine. Baidu plans to eventually build an AI ecosystem around Ernie Bot.
Details of Li’s vision for the chatbot come amid a gradual decline in the dominance Baidu once enjoyed as China’s answer to Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which pulled its search engine from the Chinese market in 2010.
Tencent’s all-in-one messaging app WeChat and Bytedance Douyin are among competitors that have eroded Baidu’s market share in recent years.
The company has created new revenue streams by expanding its core business into AI, cloud services and autonomous driving, as well as pouring money into research and development.
Li said on Wednesday that the generative AI technology underpinning Ernie Bot would be a productivity boon for other businesses and entrepreneurs looking to build their own apps.
Since early February, more than 400 companies have signed up to join the Ernie Bot community as early adopters of the app, Baidu said.
Dozens of Chinese tech companies, including e-commerce giants Alibaba Group and JD.Com Inc., have announced plans to develop their own ChatGPT-style tools.
Li said Baidu has an advantage as the “first mover” in the Chinese market. He said the company has spent years developing large language models that are trained on billions of search queries entered by search engine users every day.
He also said that Ernie Bot is “state-of-the-art” among major AI-driven language models in terms of understanding Chinese language and culture.
While OpenAI and ChatGPT are not blocked by Chinese authorities, OpenAI does not allow users in China, Hong Kong, Iran, Russia, and parts of Africa to register.
(Reporting by Eduardo Baptista in Beijing; Editing by Brenda Goh and Matthew Lewis)