Baidu discloses its ChatGPT rival now has 100M+ users

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Baidu Inc., the operator of China’s most popular search engine, has revealed that its Ernie Bot chatbot service is now used by more than 100 million consumers.

According to Reuters, Baidu Chief Technology Officer Wang Haifeng disclosed the milestone today at an artificial intelligence event in Beijing. The news comes about five months after Ernie Bot became generally available. The chatbot’s mobile version reportedly passed 1 million users within a day of its release.

Ernie Bot is the fruit of a development effort that Baidu launched in 2019. It’s based on an internally developed large language model called ERNIE, or Enhanced Representation through Knowledge Integration. The model supports many of the same use cases such as OpenAI’s GPT-4: It’s capable of writing and rewriting text, summarizing existing documents and generating code.

Baidu revealed Ernie Bot in March. The company tested the chatbot with a limited number of users for about five months before making it generally available in late August. A few weeks later, Baidu introduced an upgraded version of Ernie Bot powered by a new AI system dubbed Ernie 4.0.

The company claims the upgraded chatbot offers “drastically improved performance in understanding, generation, reasoning, and memory.” It also provides image and video generation features. According to Baidu, Ernie Bot can generate a multimedia file in a few minutes based on a prompt and a sample image provided by the user.

The company is monetizing the chatbot with a paid version that debuted in November. The paid version reportedly costs 59.9 yuan, or about $8.4, per month.

Alongside its flagship search engine and Ernie Bot, Baidu offers a range of other services including a mapping service similar to Google Maps. The company generated $17.9 billion in revenue from its applications during its last fiscal year. After making Ernie Bot generally available in August, Baidu announced plans to offer a “suite of new AI-native apps” alongside the chatbot.

The company is also integrating AI features into its existing services. Following a recent upgrade to Ernie Bot, Baidu debuted a tool that allows users of its cloud-based file storage service to retrieve documents with natural language prompts. The company also introduced an AI summarization feature for its flagship search engine.

Baidu and China’s other leading tech firms have reportedly made significant investments in Nvidia Corp. chips to support their AI development efforts. In August, the Financial Times reported that Baidu, ByteDance Ltd. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. had ordered about 100,000 A800 graphics cards for delivery by year’s end. The A800 is a modified version of Nvidia’s high-end A100 graphics cards that was developed to comply with U.S. export controls on AI chip sales to China.

Photo: N509FZ/Wikimedia

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