On Tuesday, Chinese technology giant Baidu (9888. HK) unveiled the newest version of its generative artificial intelligence (AI) model, Ernie 4.0, saying its capabilities were on par with those of ChatGPT maker OpenAI’s pioneering GPT-4 model. CEO Robin Li introduced Ernie 4.0 at an event in Beijing, focusing on what he described as the model’s memory capabilities and showing it writing a martial arts novel in real-time, creating advertising posters and videos. “It is not inferior in any aspect to GPT-4,” he told the audience.
Baidu is a frontrunner among many Chinese companies racing to develop AI models after ChatGPT took the world by storm last year. The search engine firm has been investing heavily in generative AI to stay ahead of rivals, such as China’s Tencent. But US sanctions on Chinese access to the best processors to run and train such models, coupled with Beijing’s stringent censorship rules, could hamper their prospects.
Li put Ernie 4.0 through its paces at the Beijing Baidu World conference, demonstrating its four main capabilities: comprehension, reasoning, memory, and generation, which uses algorithms to produce content. He voiced queries about buying property, posed math problems, and prompted the model to develop a fictional martial arts story.
He also showed Ernie 4.0 generating advertising posters and videos, displaying its generative abilities by prompting it to create characters with different personalities. In addition, he demonstrated Ernie’s reasoning capabilities by asking it to answer questions about the famous science fiction novel The Three-Body Problem, which it did in real-time and without a script.
Ernie 4.0, developed in just nine months, has a core capability of understanding natural language and can respond quickly to changes in speech, according to the company. It can understand more than a million words and process about five times as much information as its predecessor. The company said it can also generate more than 100 billion sentences in a single day, double its previous output.
However, industry analysts needed to be more impressed with the launch. Lu Yanxia, an analyst from consultancy IDC, told Reuters that the new version lacked major highlights compared to its predecessor. Shares in Baidu dropped 1.32 percent in morning trading, underperforming a 0.7% rise in the broader Hang Seng index.
The new version of Ernie enables the model to perform more tasks, including answering complex questions in Chinese and providing user recommendations based on their interests. Baidu is incorporating the model into all its products, including Baidu Drive and Baidu Maps, allowing people to use natural language queries powered by the model. The company also announced that it is integrating its AI assistant with Android’s smartphone operating system to allow people to control functions with voice commands. It also plans to integrate AI into its social media platform, Weibo. The company is working to improve its generative AI capabilities and expand the range of services it can provide, Li said.