Here Comes the Communist AI: China’s Baidu Scrambles to Build System Like ChatGPT

Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji, Han Zheng and Hu Ji
Li Xueren/Xinhua via Getty Images

Chinese internet giant Baidu is scrambling to ready the communist regime’s first AI ChatGPT equivalent, with hundreds of employees working around the clock to get the AI-powered chatbot launched by March 16.

Baidu, China’s biggest search-engine operator, is racing to meet its deadline, with the AI tool, dubbed Ernie Bot, still struggling to perform a few basic functions, according to people familiar with the project who spoke to the Wall Street Journal.

Other teams have reportedly been pulled to help with Ernie Bot’s development, and asked to lend staff their computer chips, as Chinese companies can no longer buy chips due to U.S. sanctions.

OpenAI founder Sam Altman, creator of ChatGPT

OpenAI founder Sam Altman, creator of ChatGPT (TechCrunch/Flickr)

While the development team has been working nonstop — even through China’s Lunar New Year holiday at the end of January — some employees are worried that Ernie Bot might not meet user or market expectations, sources told WSJ. Some employees have even sold their Baidu stock ahead of the launch.

Ernie Bot was initially supposed to be bilingual, communicating in both English and Chinese, but the project has since been scaled back to being an AI-powered chatbot only writing Chinese, the sources added.

Baidu is hurrying to roll out the ChatGPT rival to reportedly get ahead of other Chinese companies that have recently announced similar plans.

Moreover, Baidu has fallen out of investor favor in recent years, so the company hopes that a successful launch of an AI-powered chatbot might be the catalyst for it to once again become one of China’s most prominent technology companies.

The search-engine operator is planning to roll out Ernie Bot in stages. First, the company will open the AI chatbot for testing to a restricted pool of users before opening it up to the public. Baidu hopes Ernie Bot will improve its performance by gaining experience running under different scenarios.

The company has also received encouragement on its plans to build the chatbot from government officials in Beijing, where Baidu is based, WSJ reported.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.


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