China Unveils Public Access to “Ernie Bot”, Placing It Under the Watchful Eye of Censors

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On Thursday, August 31st, the Chinese internet and technology giant Baidu announced the public availability of Ernie Bot, its Mandarin-language artificial intelligence response to ChatGPT. This Chinese conversational AI quickly surged in popularity following the announcement, yet remains subject to the scrutiny and control of Beijing’s regulatory authority.

“I couldn’t access ChatGPT since it’s not allowed in China, so if there’s a Baidu robot, I’ll give it a try”, remarked a skateboarder in a trendy commercial and sports zone in central Beijing. The launch of this first Chinese conversational robot, following a failed initial attempt six months prior, raises questions for a clothing store owner.

However, the Chinese response to ChatGPT was highly anticipated, especially by a data analysis and management master’s student. She opined, “I think students probably won’t be able to use it initially, as universities will likely prohibit its use for studies. It will likely be more commercial. In any case, it’s good news, and I hope that Chinese conversational robots will surpass foreign ones in the future.”

This sentiment was echoed by a 30-year-old graphic designer who had downloaded a ChatGPT with data up to 2020 through the Taobao platform. “I use ChatGPT for my work, especially for certain designs; it’s fun. But overall, it’s still used for very basic tasks. We’ll see how Baidu’s ChatBot performs.”

“Ernie Bot,” the first Chinese conversational robot, appeared in an icon beneath Baidu’s search bar on August 31st. This access follows the introduction of regulations on August 15th for managing this emerging technology. Although it initially emerged in the United States, all major Chinese internet giants are actively developing their own AI conversational tools.

The public’s eagerness to engage with such technology underscores China’s increasing emphasis on homegrown innovations that align with national interests and regulations. As Chinese AI technology advances, it marks a pivotal moment in the nation’s technological landscape and its efforts to create tailored solutions for its vast user base.

Soukaina Sghir

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