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Baidu cancels launch event for cloud services integrated with Ernie Bot

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 27/03/2023 Che Pan
  • The Beijing-based internet search giant called off the press event at the last minute, turning it into a closed-door meeting for corporate clients
  • Baidu's ChatGPT-like Ernie Bot has faced scepticism over its capability, with investors questioning the lack of a live demonstration at launch

China's largest search engine operator Baidu, one of the country's pioneers in the artificial intelligence (AI) field, has cancelled a scheduled launch event for a smart cloud product empowered by its ChatGPT-style chatbot Ernie Bot.

The Beijing-based tech giant had announced it would host the press event on Monday, but in a last-minute statement, it said the event had been replaced by a "closed-door communications meeting" for potential corporate users "to help clients make better use of the Ernie Bot cloud services".

A special session, open to the media, will be held at a later time, Baidu said.

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The company also said on Monday that it has opened the world's first "big model platform" for enterprises, supported by Ernie Bot.

Baidu, which became the first major Chinese tech companies to roll out a ChatGPT-like service in the country with the launch of Ernie Bot on March 16, has only made its bot available to a select group of individuals so far. Corporate clients hoping to use the service in their software are still waiting for an application programming interface.

Baidu's peers, including Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings, have also said they are developing technologies similar to ChatGPT, but they have yet to release their products to the public. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

The release of Ernie Bot was not without hiccups, with investors initially expressing disappointment over the lack of a live demonstration of the technology. Shares of Baidu tumbled as much as 10 per cent during the launch event, before paring some losses the following day after several investment banks gave more bullish views.

The Baidu logo displayed at the company's headquarters in Beijing. Photo: AFP © Provided by South China Morning Post The Baidu logo displayed at the company's headquarters in Beijing. Photo: AFP

Last week, Ernie Bot became the subject of online ridicule after some users found that it drew a turkey, the bird, when asked for the country Turkey, even though the Chinese characters for each word are completely different.

Baidu defended the capability of its chatbot by asserting that it has been "totally self-developed" and that even GPT-4 - OpenAI's latest model - cannot generate an image from scratch.

Some reviewers also found that Ernie Bot does better than ChatGPT in translating English into Chinese, as well as providing real-time information.

However, a recent test by the Post found that Ernie Bot evaded politically-sensitive questions. Censorship could pose a challenge for Chinese companies racing to build ChatGPT rivals, according to researchers.

"There are no major technical obstacles to the creation of a Chinese ChatGPT-like product, [but] regulatory challenges are likely to limit the ceiling of any Chinese generative AI," said AJ Cortese, a research associate at The Paulson Institute.

Still, some 120,000 companies have already applied to test out Ernie Bot-empowered cloud services, Baidu said on Monday, while the individual wait-list for the AI chatbot exceeded 877,000 people as of March 20, according to its official website.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (, the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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