Baidu denies links with Chinese military

Baidu, a Chinese tech company, has refuted claims linking its AI chatbot, Ernie, to Chinese military research. The denial follows the citation of an academic paper by the South China Morning Post, indicating that the People’s Liberation Army cyberwarfare division had tested its AI system on Ernie and another AI chatbot.

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Chinese tech company Baidu has denied allegations that its AI chatbot, Ernie, is linked to Chinese military research. The claims were made in an academic paper cited by the South China Morning Post. It revealed that the People’s Liberation Army cyberwarfare division tested its AI system on Ernie and another AI chatbot called Spark from iFlyTek. Both bots are said to be similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

In response, Baidu issued a statement refuting any collaboration between the company and the authors or their affiliated institutions. The company emphasised that Ernie Bot is accessible to the general public and not exclusively connected to Chinese military research.

The academic paper allegedly disclosed that researchers simulated military response plans for Libyan troops using Ernie Bot in a hypothetical scenario of a US military attack. However, Baidu defended itself by stating that the authors would have utilised the same functions available to users with similar AI tools.

Baidu’s representatives said that Ernie Bot, like ChatGPT, operates under censorship rules and refrains from answering politically sensitive or taboo questions determined by the Chinese government. The South China Morning Post initially mentioned a ‘physical link’ between Ernie and the PLA division. Still, it later clarified that the PLA lab had tested its system on Baidu’s AI model.

Why does it matter?

Following the release of the academic paper, Baidu’s stock shares experienced a more than 6% decline. Investors concerned about potential US sanctions against Chinese tech companies associated with the military or government contributed to the drop.

Baidu released Ernie Bot in August 2023 as part of China’s race to develop an alternative to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. The rapid adoption of Baidu’s Ernie Bot, with over 100 million users reported by December, exemplifies the intense competition between US and Chinese tech giants in the global AI market.