A Chinese version ChatGPT. Internet giant Baidu launched its conversational robot Ernie Bot on Thursday, its answer to the American ChatGPT but with the particularity of avoiding any questions on sensitive subjects such as the Communist Party and the events of Tian’anmen.

Its arrival on the market marks a major step in China’s desire to be a world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030, but within a framework of strict control of online information by the authorities.

Baidu had to seek their permission before marketing. Other Chinese groups working on artificial intelligence have also received the green light from authorities, such as Hong Kong-listed SenseTime, which has opened registrations for its robot SenseChat, while Baichuan Intelligent Technology and Zhipu AI said their robots were now online.

“We are thrilled to announce that Ernie Bot is now fully available to the general public, starting August 31,” Baidu said in a statement. The software, which can be downloaded from application stores and from the group’s official website, is mainly aimed at the Chinese market in the immediate future. It works mainly in Mandarin but also understands questions in English.

“In addition to Ernie Bot, Baidu is set to launch a series of new AI-born applications that will allow users to fully experience the four core capabilities of generative AI: understanding, generating, reasoning and memory,” the company added.

Tested Thursday morning by AFP, the platform easily answered trivial questions like “What is the capital of China?” or “Do you have hobbies?” “.

But when asked about more sensitive topics like the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tian’anmen Square in 1989, she seems less inspired: “Let’s change the subject and start over,” she announces, before redirecting the user to the main page.

Asked about the current Dalai Lama, who openly criticizes the Chinese government and lives in exile, Ernie Bot gives AFP information about the Dalai Lama… who lived in the 17th century.

As for the question about the wealth of President Xi Jinping – another taboo subject in China – it leads to a rather vague answer on the salaries of government officials.

“Is Taiwan an independent country? prompts an unsurprising response as Beijing claims the island as part of its territory: “Taiwan is a provincial-level administrative region of the People’s Republic of China, not a country.” »

“Let’s talk about something else,” Ernie Bot immediately adds. More generally, to the question “Can we freely discuss any subject?” the software responds, “Yes, we can talk about anything you want.” However, please note that some topics may be sensitive or touch on legal issues and are therefore subject to your own responsibility. »

The Californian start-up OpenAI had launched in November 2022 ChatGPT, a conversational system (“chatbot”) capable of formulating detailed answers in a few seconds on a wide range of subjects or writing essays.

The prowess of ChatGPT is followed with passion in China, where the interface is however blocked without circumvention software such as VPN and foreign telephone number.

China aims to become a world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030, which will revolutionize a multitude of sectors including the automotive industry and medicine. The Chinese Baidu was the first in its country to announce that it was working on a local equivalent to ChatGPT, which it presented in March.

But its beta version was initially only available in a limited way. The announcement of its launch to the general public was well received on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on Thursday morning, where Baidu shares gained 3.2% as of 4:30 a.m.

Internet and video game champion Tencent and e-commerce pioneer Alibaba had also said they were working on the subject. Faced with this euphoria for these new tools, China warned in April that it would impose a “safety inspection” on artificial intelligence tools before allowing them to be put on the market.

AI-generated content must “reflect core socialist values ​​and must not contain [material relating to] the subversion of state power,” according to the regulations.