China's Baidu Readies ChatGPT-Style Bot for Public Debut

Ernie is the latest major entrant in the global chatbot race.

Sareena Dayaram Senior Editor
Sareena is a senior editor for CNET covering the mobile beat including device reviews. She is a seasoned multimedia journalist with more than a decade's worth of experience producing stories for television and digital publications across Asia's financial capitals including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mumbai. Prior to CNET, Sareena worked at CNN as a news writer and Reuters as a producer.
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China's Baidu, the country's rough equivalent to Google, said Tuesday it plans to complete internal testing of its ChatGPT-style chatbot, called "Ernie Bot," by March before a public release.

"We are proud to announce our ongoing development of the AI chatbot project, Ernie bot," the Chinese company said in a post on Twitter. "First proposed as a language model, Ernie has made significant progress since then."

There's a boom at the moment in tech companies going public with their plans for AI chatbots. The subject first splashed into widespread attention in November with the public debut of OpenAI's ChatGPT, which like Ernie is a large language model trained on vast troves of data to help it achieve striking capabilities of responding to text prompts within seconds in a humanlike manner.

Then on Monday, Google shared plans for the launch of its rival to ChatGPT, called Bard, which the company said will use information from the web to make creative responses to queries or to provide detailed information on questions asked  On Tuesday, Microsoft will be holding an event at which it's expected to reveal details on the fusion of ChatGPT and its search engine, Bing

Read moreHow ChatGPT Could Take Microsoft's Search Engine Bing Into the Future

Ernie, which stands for "enhanced representation through knowledge integration," was first introduced in 2019. Baidu plans to  make the service available as an app before integrating it into its search engine, according to a Reuters report. A post on Baidu's Twitter account indicated that Ernie, or a version of it, is also capable of generating images. 

"Our AI art generation model #ERNIEViLG painted this beautiful picture to celebrate the end of #ChineseNewYear," said a January post on Baidu's Twitter page. It's unclear it Baidu will launch an English language version.

ChatGPT, which is not available in China, has become a worldwide sensation since it was launched in November by the US artificial intelligence company OpenAI. The AI-powered chatbot made headlines thanks in part to its ability to churn out delightful poetry, generate meal plans and provide authoritative answers to complex questions within seconds after being prompted, though critics question whether its results are completely trustworthy. 

Baidu is China's answer to Google search -- it's the go-to search platform in the country. Google pulled its own search engine service from China back in 2010 over concerns about the country's strict online censorship practices.

"What distinguishes Ernie from other language models is its integration of extensive knowledge with massive data, resulting in exceptional understanding and generation capabilities," Baidu said.

Editors' note: CNET is using an AI engine to create some personal finance explainers that are edited and fact-checked by our editors. For more, see this post.