Chinese internet giant Baidu has claimed that Ernie Bot — its homegrown rival to this year’s sensation ChatGPT — has fetched more than 100 million users.
Baidu’s chief technology officer, Wang Haifeng, announced the milestone at a deep learning summit in Beijing just three months after the generative artificial intelligence (AI) tool was opened to the public in August.
Ernie Bot went through a more than five-month trial period and a partial unveiling in which only select users could test the chatbot’s capabilities.
The long testing times were testament to Beijing’s strict oversight of generative AI and a declaration this year that the technology will need to strictly adhere to the country’s socialist policies.
The scrutiny led Baidu to scrap an earlier launch of Ernie Bot in March.
Analysts said that while the partial unveiling in March was underwhelming, it still gave the company a valuable first-mover advantage in a market that has since become crowded with dozens of players.
Chinese tech companies, large and small, have rushed to develop their own generative AI chatbots amid a massive craze for ChatGPT, the chatbot developed by US research firm Open AI.
ChatGPT became the fastest-growing software application in the world within six months of its launch in November 2022.
Since then, investors have valued OpenAI at more than $80 billion. While OpenAI’s parent is a non-profit, Microsoft has invested $13 billion in a for-profit subsidiary, for what would be a 49% stake.
Baidu CEO Robin Li has this year repeatedly touted the potential for Ernie Bot and related products to help the company gain market share in its mainstream businesses, including search engine, cloud and smart cars.
According to a ranking published on Thursday by SuperCLUE, which ranks generative AI-powered chatbots, Ernie Bot leads all Chinese chatbots but its score of 79.02 is more than 10 points lower than the latest version of ChatGPT.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena