Stocks rally as China’s Baidu announces testing of ChatGPT-style project ‘Ernie Bot’

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China’s Baidu Inc said on Tuesday it would complete internal testing of a ChatGPT-style project called “Ernie Bot” in March, as interest in generative artificial intelligence (AI) gathers steam.

The news sent search engine giant Baidu’s Hong Kong-listed shares up 15.3 percent on Tuesday.

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A flurry of Chinese AI stocks also rallied, as the global frenzy around the Microsoft-backed chatbot sensation ChatGPT spurred speculative bets on the new technology.

Just two months after its launch, ChatGPT -- which can generate articles, essays, jokes and even poetry in response to prompts -- has been rated the fastest-growing consumer app in history.

It has prompted many tech firms to double down on the heavily hyped generative AI technology, which until recently existed more in the background than as a solid contributor to the bottom line.

Google owner Alphabet Inc said on Monday it would launch a chatbot service and more AI for its search engine, while Microsoft plans its own AI reveal on Tuesday, underscoring growing rivalry to lead a new wave of computing.

Baidu, China’s answer to Google, joined the frenzy on Tuesday.

It said Ernie,or “Enhanced Representation through Knowledge Integration,” is a large AI-powered language model introduced in 2019, and has gradually grown to be able to perform tasks including language understanding, language generation, and text-to-image generation.

A person familiar with the matter told Reuters last week that Baidu was planning to launch such a service in March.

The person said Baidu aims to make the service available as a standalone application and gradually merge it into its search engine by incorporating chatbot-generated results when users make search requests.

ChatGPT and key Google services are not available in China, although some users have found workarounds to access such tools.

Beijing-based Baidu has been a first mover in China on other tech trends.

In late 2021, when the metaverse became a new buzzword, the company launched “XiRang” which it described as China’s first metaverse platform.

The platform however was widely panned for not offering a high-level, immersive experience and Baidu said it was a work in progress.

The company has been investing heavily in AI technology, including in cloud services, chips, and autonomous driving, as it looks to diversify its revenue sources.

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