Almost six years ago, a Google computer program toppled the best player in China — and the world — at Go, an ancient Chinese board game. The defeat catalyzed Chinas revolution in artificial intelligence. Beijing unrolled a monumental A.I. plan, and investors poured record sums into new projects.
Now, a similar moment has arrived: The rise of ChatGPT has kicked off another A.I. arms race, this time in the realm of machine-generated content. On Thursday, Chinas first major rival to ChatGPT was unveiled in Beijing by the search giant Baidu. But the debut of the bot, dubbed Ernie, was a flop.
Halfway through a demonstration that had been marketed as live, in which Ernie summarized a science fiction novel and analyzed a Chinese idiom, Robin Li, Baidus chief executive, said the presentation had been prerecorded “to save time.”
Baidus shares plunged 10 percent in Hong Kong, a striking contrast to the rally earlier this year that was fueled by the companys announcement that it has had a rival to ChatGPT in the works since 2019.
The botched rollout comes as the likes of Baidu and Google rush to catch up with ChatGPT, whose maker released a new version this week. It was also a sign that China still has work to do to catch up with the United States in A.I., a race that has only intensified in recent years as relations between the two countries have deteriorated. As Washington has moved to contain competition from China, it has cut Beijing off from high-end computing chips — a key ingredient in technologies like ChatGPT and Ernie.
Because of enormous computing requirements, only a handful of companies, most based in either the United States or China, have the capacity to build bots that rely on what are known as large language models. Microsoft has poured billions of dollars into OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT.
Baidus bot, whose name comes from Enhanced Representation through Knowledge Integration, will be open to some users starting Thursday.
Ernie, Mr. Li insisted, was not a “tool for Sino-U.S. technology competition.” But he also acknowledged that ChatGPTs success had accelerated the timeline for Baidus rollout.