Baidu, a leading technology company in China, has denied recent reports claiming that its artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot, Ernie, is linked to Chinese military research. The allegations were made in an academic paper from a university affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) cyberwarfare division, which stated that the division had tested their AI system on Baidu’s Ernie and another AI chatbot called Spark from iFlyTek, which is similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT.
The report by the South China Morning Post initially suggested a physical link between Ernie and the PLA division, but it has since been amended to clarify that the PLA lab had tested its system on Baidu’s AI model. The academic paper from the PLA Information Engineering University described how researchers used Ernie to generate simulated military response plans for Libyan troops in the event of a US military attack.
In response to the allegations, Baidu released a statement denying any business collaboration with the authors of the paper or their affiliated institutions. The company emphasized that Ernie Bot is available to and used by the general public and stated that if the authors used large language models like Ernie, they would have utilized the same functions available to any user interacting with such AI tools.
Ernie Bot, similar to ChatGPT, allows users to ask questions or make requests, and the AI system generates content based on the given prompt. However, like many other online platforms in China, Ernie Bot is subject to censorship rules and will not answer politically sensitive or taboo questions as deemed by the Chinese government.
Following the news, Baidu’s Hong Kong-listed stock experienced a significant drop of over 11.5% on Monday, reflecting investors’ concerns about potential sanctions by the US on Chinese technology companies associated with the Chinese military or government. This fear stems from the actions taken against Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which the US considers a security risk.
The tensions between China and the US have escalated in recent years, with disputes over trade, technology, and issues related to Taiwan, a self-ruled island and US ally that China considers a renegade province. As one of China’s leading AI firms and operator of the country’s top search engine, Baidu made Ernie Bot available to the public in August 2023 in an effort to compete with other Chinese technology companies in developing a language-based AI chatbot similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Baidu reported having over 100 million users for Ernie Bot as of December.