China's Baidu Inc. said on Tuesday it would complete internal testing of a ChatGPT-style project called "Ernie Bot" in March, joining a global race as interest in generative artificial intelligence (AI) gathers steam.
Ernie, meaning "Enhanced Representation through Knowledge Integration," is a large AI-powered language model introduced in 2019, Baidu said. It has gradually grown to be able to perform tasks including language understanding, language generation, and text-to-image generation, it added.
Search engine giant Baidu's Hong Kong-listed shares jumped as much as 13.4% on the news.
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.
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Generative artificial intelligence, technology that can create prose or other content on command and free up white-collar workers' time, has been gathering significant venture capital investment and interest from tech firms, especially in Silicon Valley.
Defining the category is ChatGPT, a chatbot from Microsoft-backed OpenAI that has been the centre of much buzz since it was released in November. ChatGPT is not available in China but some users have found workarounds to access the service.
Microsoft Corp. has a $1 billion investment in San Francisco-based OpenAI that it has looked at increasing, Reuters has reported. The company has also worked to add OpenAI's image-generation software to its Bing search engine in a new challenge to Alphabet Inc.'s Google.
Microsoft plans its own AI reveal for Tuesday.
In a blog post on Monday, Alphabet Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said his company is opening a conversational AI service called Bard to test users for feedback, followed by a public release in the coming weeks, adding that Google plans to add AI features to its search engine that synthesise material for complex queries.
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.