Baidu shares fall to an 8-week low after the company revealed ChatGPT rival

Men interact with a Baidu AI robot near the company’s logo at its headquarters in Beijing, China, April 23, 2021.

Florence Lo | Reuters

BEIJING – Chinese technology company baidu gave the public a glimpse of the power of its Chinese-language ChatGPT alternative on Thursday while warning of its shortcomings.

During a livestreamed launch event, Baidu CEO Robin Li stressed that the company’s product – dubbed the Ernie Bot – is not perfect. Hong Kong shares fell nearly 6.4%amid a broader decline in Asian equities, and posted its lowest close since Jan. 19.

Li emphasized how the product would improve by allowing users to provide feedback.

Baidu prioritizes initial Ernie bot access for what it calls 650 ecosystem business partners, including some media companies, banks, and auto companies. Baidu has a large enterprise cloud business and said users of its AI cloud could request access to Ernie Bot’s application programming interface.

Within an hour of the Ernie bot’s announcement, Baidu said 30,000 corporate customers had queued for access to the chatbot. CNBC, other media, and the general public were not immediately given access.

Microsoft-backed OpenAI this week announced GPT-4, the latest version of the artificial intelligence technology behind its hugely popular ChatGPT chatbot. The bot was originally released to the public for free in November, and individuals who want access to the GPT 4 features have to pay $20 per month.

ChatGPT is able to converse in a human-like manner and generate everything from content summaries to business proposals.

While ChatGPT is free for anyone who can set up an account, people had to waitlist to try Microsoft’s Bing AI chatbot – which uses OpenAI technology – which launched last month. Some users reported a spooky experience.

Baidu’s Li said Ernie Bot has similar problems when he’s used enough and that he’s not perfect. However, he found that the model was trained on a set of 550 billion facts.

The AI ​​isn’t meant to highlight the US-China rivalry, but the result of Baidu’s efforts to “change the world with technology,” Li said in Mandarin, translated by CNBC.

Hong Kong-traded Baidu shares are still up 12% year-to-date.

Microsoft shares are up about 11% year to date, while Google parent Alphabet’s Class A shares are up nearly 9%.

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Stocks of major ChatGPT-related technology companies

ChatGPT has attracted local interest in China despite not being officially available in the country. ChatGPT has a Chinese language feature, although not at the same level as in English.

Beijing has pushed for national self-sufficiency in technology while maintaining censorship and increasing regulation of data.

In addition to Baidu, many Chinese companies are developing similar technologies.

In February, Baidu’s Li told analysts on a conference call that the company would first embed its version — the Ernie bot — in the company’s search engine and release the product to the public in March.

Li said the company also plans to use AI technology for content creation. Baidu powers one of China’s largest video streaming platforms, iQiyi.

It wasn’t immediately clear how Baidu’s Ernie bot and AI capabilities compare to ChatGPTs.

OpenAI said this week that its GPT-4 can beat 90% of people on the SAT, a US college entrance exam

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