Baidu rolls out its GenAI chatbot Ernie to the general public in China

Best known for its search engine and self-driving vehicles, Baidu hopes to gather user feedback to improve its generative AI model.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor
Abstract brain representing AI
peshkov/Getty Images

China's search engine and autonomous vehicle maker Baidu has released its generative artificial intelligence (AI) model to the general public, in the hopes of gathering user feedback to improve the platform. 

Currently available only in its domestic market, Ernie Bot can be downloaded via local app stores or accessed via Baidu's site

Also: A new role emerges for software leaders: Overseeing generative AI

The Chinese tech giant also plans to release AI-native apps that it said will deliver four key capabilities of generative AI: Encompassing reasoning, memory, generation, and understanding. 

With Ernie Bot now available to China's vast internet community, Baidu hopes to gather "real-world" user feedback to improve its foundation AI model, said its co-founder and CEO Robin Li. It also will be able to more quickly push out further iterations of the chatbot for better user experience, according to Li. 

First released in March this year with limited access, Ernie Bot is built on a foundation AI model that Baidu said has topped more than 10 local and international evaluations. The AI model previously was available to users with invitation codes, with its API accessible via Baidu AI Cloud. 

Also: The best AI chatbots

Ernie Bot, among other touted capabilities, can generate text, images, audio, and video given a text prompt, and can deliver voice in several local Chinese dialects, including Sichuan. Since its introduction in March, the AI model has gained proficiency in more than 200 genres of writing, clocking a 1.6-fold increase in content quality, according to Baidu. Five plugins were also added to Ernie Bot this month, including Baidu Search, data analytics and visualization, and text-to-video.  

The Chinese vendor said it had invested 140 billion yuan ($19.22 billion) in research and development over the past 10 years and offers an AI portfolio that includes applications, models, and chips. 

With its public launch Thursday, Baidu's Ernie Bot is among the first generative AI apps to be made available to the general public in China, where other local AI vendors reportedly are set to follow suit with their own offerings. 

Zhipu Ai, SenseTime, and Baichuan Intelligence Technology are among those to introduce generative AI products after also securing government approval to do so, reported Reuters. Citing local media, the news wire added that 11 companies got the go-ahead to launch AI products locally, including ByteDance.

Also: Everyone wants responsible AI, but few people are doing anything about it

Several Chinese market players in recent months have unveiled generative AI models, primarily for enterprise deployment. E-commerce giant JD.com last month launched its large language model ChatRhino, which it said is customized to support verticals such as logistics, retail, health care, and finance. 

Tencent and Alibaba also announced efforts to offer or integrate generative AI into their products. Alibaba Cloud in April unveiled its large language AI platform, called Tongyi Qianwen, which is currently available to customers in China for beta testing and as an API to developers. The Chinese cloud vendor also introduced a partnership program to fuel the development of AI applications for verticals, including finance and petrochemicals. 

The accelerated drive toward AI comes amid interim regulations in China, which were pushed out to ensure the healthy development of the technology and safeguard both national security and public interests, the Chinese government said. 

Also: AI safety and bias: Untangling the complex chain of AI training

Effective from Aug. 15, the interim legislation outlines various measures that aim to facilitate these objectives, including steps to be taken to improve the quality of training data, such as its accuracy, objectivity, and diversity. Generative AI service providers also assume legal responsibility for the information generated and its security, and they must sign service-level agreements with users of their service, clarifying each party's rights and obligations.

Generative AI developers have to ensure their pre-training and model optimization processes are carried out in compliance with the law. These include using data from legitimate sources that adhere to intellectual property rights. Should personal data be used, the individual's consent must be obtained or it must be done in accordance with existing regulations.

Editorial standards