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The bearable mediocrity of Baidu’s ChatGPT competitor

The bearable mediocrity of Baidu’s ChatGPT competitor

Did you stay awake late last week to look at the discharge of Ernie Bot, the primary Chinese rival to ChatGPT? It felt like probably the most anticipated event in China’s tech world to this point this yr, but I couldn’t force myself to not sleep till 3 a.m., so I watched a recorded version of the Baidu press conference the next morning. 

By that point, the launch had been met with an almost overwhelming wave of disappointment. Chinese publications with testing access ridiculed the chatbot’s performance, social media users mocked it with memes, and Baidu’s stock dropped by 6.4%. (Should you missed the news, don’t worry: I wrote a story summarizing the day’s highlights and letdowns.)

But a curious thing has happened since last week’s launch: Ernie Bot’s popularity seems to have bounced back. Baidu’s stock price rebounded by 15.7% on Friday. More Chinese reporters gained access to the chatbot and published more moderate reviews.

“The market rationalized and realized: ,” says Jennifer Zhu Scott, a Hong Kong–based deep-tech enterprise capital investor and founding father of IN. Capital.

I’ve warmed as much as it too. I used to be pretty disillusioned at first, primarily because Baidu only showed pre-recorded demonstrations of the chatbot on the event, which didn’t suggest lots of confidence within the technology. However the more I’ve examine other testers’ interactions with Ernie Bot, the more it looks as if a good upgrade on Baidu’s previous models and positively one fair-size step toward ChatGPT.  

It actually performs very much the best way ChatGPT does: Ernie Bot also likes to speak in a weirdly formal tone and list answers in bullet points and numbered lists. It has a basic command of historical facts, works of literature, and web trends but sometimes gets the small print improper. When asked questions on harmful information or politically sensitive topics, it awkwardly shies away from giving a solution. But it surely also has image-making capabilities, unlike ChatGPT. On that rating it might not be as sophisticated as Stable Diffusion or Midjourney, but it surely does seem significantly better than first-generation models like DALL·E.

Is that this a sufficiently big step for the Chinese market? 

There’s a well-liked phrase in China’s science and tech world today: 弯道超车, . While it’s clear that the US remains to be the world leader in science and innovation, the Chinese government and firms often hope that with the advantage of a giant market, more accessible data, and direct government support, they’ll quickly bridge the technology gap in a brief period of time and even overtake the US. Artificial intelligence is one area the Chinese tech industry is targeting, and even the US side has develop into anxious about competition.

But Ernie Bot didn’t overtake ChatGPT. It fails in lots of the same areas where ChatGPT failed: It too makes up facts and makes errors in grade school math. The identical questions can befuddle each bots. (I like this instance: If you ask “Can my dad and mom get married?” in Chinese, each bots inform you that they’ll’t legally marry because they’re first-degree relatives.) Ernie performs marginally worse than ChatGPT, making more mistakes and understanding less about complex questions. At the identical time, ChatGPT might be improving quickly: last week Open AI unveiled GPT-4, an excellent more advanced version of the massive language model that will be used to power the chatbot. 

Quite than becoming a source of national pride, as many observers had hoped, the discharge of Ernie Bot confirmed that Chinese corporations are still trailing behind their American peers by quite a distance. It’s a sobering reminder that Chinese AI corporations and researchers still have quite a bit to make amends for, whilst they develop into increasingly vital on this space. 

So what’s next? A lot of Baidu’s domestic competitors, like Alibaba and Tencent, have confirmed that they’re working on similar products, but there’s no indication that they’re close. “I’d not bet on any [other consumer-facing] applications coming out anytime soon,” says Zhu. Enterprise products, alternatively, may come sooner.

At the tip of his presentation on Thursday, Baidu’s CEO, Robin Li, tried to downplay the theme of an AI arms race between the US and China. “Ernie Bot isn’t a tool for China-US technology confrontation,” he said. 

But in the present geopolitical climate, it’s inevitable that folks on either side will proceed to make use of the Ernie Bot vs. GPT comparison as a proxy for the tech gap between China and the US. Baidu just announced that there shall be one other press conference on Monday, when it’s expected to clarify more about how other corporations can adapt Ernie Bot for their very own businesses. And by then, there’s little question people will compare it with how GPT-4 is getting used by Microsoft, Duolingo, or Morgan Stanley. 

Meet up with China

1. TikTok has had a tumultuous week. First, it was reported that its parent company ByteDance is considering selling the app if it could actually’t reach a cope with the US government over national security questions. (Bloomberg $)

  • But that plan is also rejected by the Chinese government, China-based lawyers and investors say. (The Information $)
  • It was reported this week that the US Justice Department began investigating ByteDance as early as late 2022 for surveilling American TikTok users, including two journalists. (Latest York Times $)
  • And a bunch of Silicon Valley executives, including Peter Thiel, are secretly mobilizing in Washington against TikTok. (Wall Street Journal $)

2. Chinese researchers uploaded genetic samples from Wuhan in 2020 that show links between the coronavirus and raccoon dogs, boosting the likelihood that covid had a natural origin. But the information was quickly scraped from the database after international academics reached out to research it further. (Latest York Times $)

3. President Xi Jinping traveled to Russia to satisfy with Vladimir Putin this week. The economic relationship between the 2 countries has weakened in recent times. (Wall Street Journal $)

4. A yr after the China Eastern Airlines crash that killed 132 people, the Chinese government still doesn’t have a conclusion about what went improper. (Associated Press)

5. Jiang Yanyong, the Chinese doctor who exposed the cover-up of the SARS outbreak in 2003, died on the age of 91. (NPR)

6. Someone keeps cutting the undersea cables connecting a Taiwanese archipelago to the web. Taiwanese authorities blame accidental damage from Chinese ships. (Vice)

7. Guo Wengui, a controversial Chinese billionaire with close ties to Steve Bannon, was arrested in Latest York on Wednesday for a $1 billion fraud scheme. (NBC News)

  • “The Latest Federal State of China,” an entity Guo and Bannon launched in 2020, greatly exaggerated its role in helping to rescue Ukrainian refugees in 2022 and used it for political promotion. (Mother Jones)

Lost in translation

Throughout the first two years of the pandemic, Chinese insurance firms popularized “covid insurance”—people pays a one-time premium of a couple of dollars and get 1000’s of dollars back in the event that they catch covid. But as journalist Yu Meng wrote within the Chinese publication Connecting, it could actually be extremely hard to get that payout. 

Yu bought covid insurance at the start of 2022 and tested positive on an at-home antigen test in December, during a national wave of infections after China loosened its pandemic control measures. The insurance company gave her a number to call, but nobody answered. Yu reports there are at the very least 60,000 more individuals who filed a claim with the identical company. Some called dozens of times a day, and a few sued the corporate. Some filed complaints with China’s insurance regulator. But only a few people actually got paid in the long run. 

At one point when she finally managed to succeed in the corporate, a customer representative told Yu: “Do you recognize what number of claims now we have? You think that the people above me haven’t calculated the prices? In fact, they did. It might probably reach billions and can cause the corporate to go bankrupt. Do you’re thinking that the state will allow a state-owned company to go bankrupt? Are you able to imagine that?” Ultimately, Yu, who had expected to get 20,000 RMB ($2,900), accepted 5000 RMB. Her parents, who bought the identical insurance, gave up on getting any a reimbursement.

Yet one more thing

Even kids can’t escape the AI craze now. Recently, the local government in China’s eastern province Zhejiang announced it could incorporate more artificial-intelligence education into the grade school and middle school curricula. How intense the teachings shall be remains to be unclear, but I’m wondering: will we come full circle and see Chinese kids using Ernie Bot to do their homework on Ernie Bot?


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