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Baidu refutes connection between Ernie AI chatbot and military research, contradicting reports

Baidu, a prominent technology company, has strongly denied allegations linking its artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot, Ernie, to Chinese military research. The refutation comes in response to a report by the South China Morning Post, which cited an academic paper from a university affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) cyberwarfare division. The paper suggested that the PLA division had tested its AI system on Ernie and another AI chatbot, Spark, developed by the company iFlyTek. Both Ernie and Spark are language-based AI chatbots, resembling ChatGPT.

The academic paper, originating from the PLA Information Engineering University, outlined how researchers used Ernie to generate simulated military response plans for Libyan troops in the event of a hypothetical U.S. military attack. Following the publication of this report, Baidu’s Hong Kong-listed stock experienced a significant drop of more than 11.5%.

Baidu promptly issued a statement denying the allegations and clarified that it had not engaged in any business collaboration with the authors of the paper or their affiliated institutions. The company emphasized that Ernie Bot is publicly available and used by the general public, refuting any claims of a specific association with military research.



Baidu refutes connection between Ernie AI chatbot and military research, contradicting reports
Baidu refutes connection between Ernie AI chatbot and military research, contradicting reports

Ernie Bot, similar to ChatGPT, operates by generating responses based on prompts or questions posed by users. However, it is subject to censorship rules, common for many internet services in China. Questions that are considered politically sensitive or taboo by the Chinese government are not answered.

The South China Morning Post initially mentioned a “physical link” between Ernie and the PLA division in its report but later revised the wording to state that the PLA lab had tested its AI system on Baidu’s Ernie model.

The decline in Baidu’s stock price raised concerns among investors about the potential for U.S. sanctions against Chinese technology companies associated with the military or government, similar to the measures taken against Huawei, a major Chinese telecommunications giant.

The strained relations between China and the U.S. over trade, technology, and geopolitical issues have heightened concerns about potential actions against Chinese tech firms. Baidu, renowned for operating China’s leading search engine and being a prominent player in the AI sector, found itself at the center of these concerns following the allegations.

Baidu introduced Ernie Bot to the public in August 2023, joining other Chinese tech companies in a competitive race to develop AI chatbots akin to ChatGPT. In December of the same year, the company reported having more than 100 million users for Ernie Bot.

The incident underscores the broader challenges faced by Chinese tech companies operating in a geopolitical environment where concerns about espionage risks and national security are intertwined with economic and technological competition. The refutation by Baidu and subsequent developments highlight the complexity and sensitivity surrounding the intersection of AI, military research, and international relations.

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