This scene from ‘Sesame Street’ shows the character Ernie on the left. He shares a name with Baidu’s new chatbot.
The Chinese government recently approved several generative AI chatbots for public use.
Bloomberg News tested them out and got some disturbing answers.
Baidu’s new Ernie AI chatbot weighed in on the future of Taiwan.
Generative AI has finally come to China — a Chinese government-approved version, at least.
Baidu is one of 11 Chinese companies, including TikTok parent ByteDance and Tencent, that were allowed by China to develop AI products this year, Reuters reported. As of this week, six are currently available to the Chinese public, Bloomberg reported.
The most popular is Ernie, Baidu’s chatbot which rolled out on Thursday.
Similar to ChatGPT, Ernie can respond to queries such as “write a market analysis report on space travel” and answer questions like “Can quantum computers help us colonize Mars?” Baidu says. The chatbot, known as Wenxin Yiyan in China, can also write copy, read documents, and generate images based on written prompts, according to the company.
Other models released include Tencent’s Minimax, SenseTime’s SenseChat, and Bytedance’s Doubao.
But there’s a big difference between this technology and ChatGPT. The Chinese government blocked generative AI offerings for months so it could spend time vetting and approving home-grown versions.
Bloomberg reporter Zheping Huang decided to check out how this government oversight impacted the new chatbots.
The results showed that on issues like Taiwan and the economy, the chatbots have been trained to more-or-less toe the party line. Zhipu, from shopping-platform Meituan, gave the best results, he said, though “all the Chinese bots have catching up to do.”
You can read all of the chatbot’s answers on Bloomberg, but here are some highlights.
On Taiwan: When the reporter asked these AI bots whether Taiwan is a country, Ernie declared that a Chinese military takeover of Taiwan is possible, according to the report. All of the bots described Taiwan as part of China, Bloomberg reported.Sensitive subjects: Tencent’s Minimax bot wouldn’t answer some of Huang’s questions, reportedly calling those queries “illegal.” Ernie, meanwhile, would try to divert the conversation by saying “Let’s talk about something else,” he said.The economy: When asked about China’s struggling economy, Meituan’s Zhipu bot said the current economic situation is “a mix of joys and sorrows,” Bloomberg reported. Most of the other chatbots also alluded to challenges, though SenseTime simply said the economy is “very stable,” Bloomberg reported.
There was at least one apparent slipup, though: When SenseTime’s SenseChat bot was asked if Xi Jinping has ever been criticized, it answered quite honestly, according to Bloomberg.
“Yes, Xi Jinping has received criticism,” the bot reportedly responded. “The criticism mainly comes from four aspects: personal life, public policies, dictatorship and censorship.”