In brief: China isn't being left behind when it comes to the chatbot revolution. Following ChatGPT's explosive arrival on the scene and Google's announcement of its own AI-powered tech called Bard, China's Baidu has revealed its version, called Ernie Bot, which is scheduled to arrive in the country this March.

The excitement around generative artificial intelligence has skyrocketed since ChatGPT launched last November. OpenAI's service reached 100 million users in just two months, making it the fastest-growing consumer app of all time; it took TikTok nine months to reach that milestone.

With Google rushing to launch its take on the chatbot soon, Reuters reports that Chinese search engine giant Baidu said it would complete internal testing on a similar project in March. Its AI-powered language model, Ernie---an acronym for Enhanced Representation through Knowledge Integration---has been in development since 2019. During that time, it has learned to perform tasks including language understanding, language generation, and text-to-image generation.

A person familiar with the matter said Ernie would launch as a standalone application first before Baidu merges it with the company's search engine so the tech can be used to help with search query results, much like how Microsoft plans to integrate OpenAI's generative AI into Bing.

As with many western internet companies, Google and its services are banned in China, so Ernie could be the first opportunity for much of its population to interact legally with an advanced AI chatbot. Whether it can match the best OpenAI and Google offers remains to be seen. As Reuters, points out, Baidu launched its own take on the Metaverse called XiRang, which has been criticized for not offering a very immersive experience; Baidu claims it's still a work in progress. Ernie has been in development for four years, so the chatbot might be a match for chatGPT.

ChatGPT is monetizing its service with the launch of a $20-per-month subscription opion, called ChatGPT Plus, which offers priority access at peak periods, faster response times, more stability, and priority access to new features and improvements. The tier is now available in the US, though there is a waitlist for those who want to sign up.

Center image: Jon Russell