Chip war & censorship hobble Chinese tech giants

Search giant Baidu’s lacklustre unveiling of its chatbot exposed gaps in China’s race to rival ChatGPT, as censorship and a US squeeze on chip imports have hamstrung the country’s artificial intelligence ambitions.

The highly anticipated preview of “Ernie Bot” last week was limited to a pre-recorded demonstration with simple questions to summarise the plot of a sci-fi novel and solving a straightforward algebra equation – to avoid politically and factually incorrect answers.

From cloud computing to autonomous driving, none of the array of services Baidu had earlier promised its Ernie Bot could do were on display.

The firm’s shares plunged as much as 10% during the unveiling, although they rallied the following day on positive reviews from brokerages including Citigroup, whose analysts were among a small group of people invited to test the bot.

A flurry of Chinese companies including Alibaba,, Netease and TikTok-parent Bytedance have rushed to develop services that can mimic human speech since San Francisco-based OpenAI launched ChatGPT in November, sparking a gold rush in the market.

Google on Tuesday invited people in the United States and Britain to test its AI chatbot, known as Bard, as it continues on its own push to catch up.

The popularity of ChatGPT in China – where users have to scale Beijing’s internet firewall using virtual private networks (VPNs) and foreign phone numbers – has left Baidu and others scrambling to regain its dominance on home turf.”OpenAI probably spent as much time just testing GPT-4 as Baidu spent building Ernie Bot,” said Matt Sheehan, fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “China’s tech ecosystem doesn’t have a tradition of funding open-ended research that doesn’t have a clear path to profitability.”

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