Baidu Shows Corporate Chatbot Skills In Closed Session

Baidu chief executive Robin Li speaks at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in July 2021. Image credit: Baidu

Baidu shows corporate-focussed chatbot capabilities in closed-door session, but lack of press event triggers investor worries

Chinese search giant Baidu has unveiled industry-focused capabilities for its Ernie generative artificial intelligence, indicating how the tool could be used to summarise financial statements or produce PowerPoint presentations, amongst other capabilities.

But a last-minute change in format for the presentation from a live public event to a closed-door meeting with corporate customers caused Baidu’s share price to sink.

Baidu is the first major Chinese tech company to produce a chatbot similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which caused waves in the industry when it was publicly released last autumn, leading some to predict the technology was the future of internet search.

Baidu released its take on the technology on 16 March, with chief executive Robin Li walking viewers through a series of prerecorded videos showing some of Ernie’s capabilities.

The Business of BotsCorporate edition

The company’s shares sank as much as 10 percent during that talk as investors registered dismay at the lack of a live demo, but pared the losses the following day after several investment banks gave positive hands-on reviews.

Baidu had announced another live event to show Ernie’s corporate-focussed skills, but at the last minute said it had changed the format to a closed-door session to prioritise the “strong demand” from more than 120,000 companies that had applied to test Ernie.

It added this would be the first of many closed-door meetings and that an event open to the media would be held at a later date.

The change caused Baidu’s Hong Kong-listed shares to fall as much as 4.5 percent on Monday morning.

Virtual livestream personality

Ernie’s initial capabilities included generating images with text prompts, composing poetry and producing audio in different Chinese dialects.

The new pre-recorded videos released on Monday show it producing travel itineraries and modelling virtual livestreamers that can advertise products using scripts tailored to a company’s needs.

So far testers have found the bot to be competent in a number of areas, but noted that due to regulations in China it refrains from answering politically sensitive questions – something that could hinder Chinese tech firms in competing in the field.

“There are no major technical obstacles to the creation of a Chinese ChatGPT-like product, [but] regulatory challenges are likely to limit the ceiling of any Chinese generative AI,” said Paulson Institute research associate AJ Cortese in a research note.