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Baidu’s Ernie joins the AI chatbot party

  • Baidu Inc said this week that it would complete internal testing of its own generative AI chatbot called “Ernie Bot” in March.
  • Baidu said Ernie or “Enhanced Representation through Knowledge Integration,” is a large AI-powered language model introduced in 2019.

The ChatGPT craze is still very much alive and kicking, and this week alone there has been a rush in announcements made related to the generative AI chatbot. From Google revealing Bard, its experimental conversational AI service powered by LaMDA to Microsoft launching its new, AI-powered Bing search engine and Edge browser, the hype is real. Now, these tech giants will be joined by a Chinese internet behemoth, Baidu Inc, with Ernie.

Baidu, China’s answer to Google, joined the frenzy, just a day after Google unveiled Bard. Baidu’s foray into the AI chatbot space makes the company the first among its Chinese counterparts to join the global race. Baidu unveiled that it would complete internal testing of the ChatGPT-style project called “Ernie Bot” by next month, since interest in generative AI has been gathering steam.

Ernie, or “Enhanced Representation through Knowledge Integration,” is basically a large AI-powered language model introduced in 2019. According to a report by Reuters, Ernie has been growing since 2019 to be able to perform tasks including language understanding, language generation, and text-to-image generation. An article by The Register indicated that Ernie “expands into a series of advanced big models that can perform a wide range of tasks, including language understanding, language generation (ERNIE 3.0 Titan), and text-to-image generation (ERNIE-ViLG).”

Frankly, after OpenAI’s ChatGPT garnered widespread attention, many companies, especially Big Tech, began speeding up their AI effort. For instance, for 13 years Microsoft has been trying to get people to use Bing, its search engine. Bing’s global market share to date remains in the single digits. However, Microsoft has clear intentions of changing that, after all this time. 

Since the US-based company announced a multiyear, multibillion-dollar investment in the artificial intelligence lab that built ChatGPT in January this year, Microsoft began pulling out all the stops in an effort to better compete with Google. In fact, just yesterday, at a press event in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft announced its long-rumored integration of OpenAI’s GPT-4 model into Bing, providing a ChatGPT-like experience within the search engine. 

“Today, we’re launching an all new, AI-powered Bing search engine and Edge browser, available in preview now at Bing.com, to deliver better search, more complete answers, a new chat experience and the ability to generate content. We think of these tools as an AI copilot for the web,” Microsoft said in a blog post.

For Chairman and CEO, Satya Nadella, “AI will fundamentally change every software category, starting with the largest category of all – search.” The company dubs the new Bing and Edge as “your copilot for the web.” When it comes to security and information, Nadella assures that with OpenAI, Microsoft has also been intentional in implementing safeguards to defend against harmful content. 

“Our teams are working to address issues such as misinformation and disinformation, content blocking, data safety and preventing the promotion of harmful or discriminatory content in line with our AI principles,” he added. In comparison, Google’s Bard unveiled on Monday morning is, as Sundar Pichai puts it, “an experimental conversational AI service, powered by LaMDA.”

Pichai has opened up the Bard to trusted testers ahead of making it more widely available to the public in the coming weeks. Microsoft’s new version of its Edge browser launched and went live yesterday while Bing is still somewhat limited. There is a waitlist for those who wish to get the new version of Bing.

What sets Ernie apart as a generative AI chatbot?

According to The Register, quoting Baidu’s spokesperson, “what sets Ernie apart from other language models is its ability to integrate extensive knowledge with massive data, resulting in exceptional understanding and generation capabilities.” In a separate article by The Register a day before, Baidu has discussed “proposed a controllable learning algorithm and a credible learning algorithm to ensure the model can formulate reasonable and coherent texts.”

It’s done the hard work to deliver such a system, having detailed “ERNIE 3.0 Titan” in 2021 – a pre-training language model with 260 billion parameters. For context, ChatGPT uses the 175-billion parameter GPT3 model.