Chinese billionaire Robin Li’s search giant Baidu has confirmed plans to roll out a ChatGPT-style service, triggering an immediate rally in its Hong Kong-listed shares that surged more than 14% as of Tuesday noon.
The Beijing-based company has named its own version of artificial intelligence-based chatbot Ernie Bot, which it plans to officially launch in March after completing internal testing, according to a press release Tuesday morning. Development of such a souped-up chatbot is said to have first kicked off last September, as Baidu has been spending billions of dollars in recent years to research AI for additional revenue streams.
A Baidu representative declined to comment on whether the company would charge users for Ernie Bot, which stands for enhanced representation through knowledge integration. Just last week, OpenAI, the San Francisco-based company behind ChatGPT, has started offering users a premium version that costs $20 a month. Called ChatGPT Plus, it comes with features including access during peak times and faster response to queries. Since its launch last November, ChatGPT has gone viral over the internet, attracting about one million users within days with advanced conversational AI technologies.
Baidu, in the meantime, isn’t the only AI-related company in China enjoying a surge in investor enthusiasm. Just last week, firms including Shanghai-listed Beijing Deep Glint Technology and Shenzhen-listed Hanwang Technology both saw their shares surge as investors look for the country’s own version of ChatGPT. Reports of Baidu developing a similar chatbot service first emerged back then.
But the drive to commercialize AI has taken on added urgency for the search engine operator, as people in China have been gaining access to information from an increasingly diversified source that includes the Instagram-like Xiaohongshu app and short video platform Douyin. To make up for the losses in user attention, billionaire Li is pinning Baidu’s future on AI, venturing into fields such as autonomous driving, cloud computing and semiconductor chips. It reported a better-than-expected 32.5 billion yuan ($4.6 billion) revenue for the September quarter, although sales from online marketing still accounted for over half of the total.