Baidu denies allegations of links between Ernie AI Chatbot and chinese military research

The allegations, initially reported by the South China Morning Post, asserted that the PLA cyber warfare division tested its AI system on Baidu’s Ernie and another AI chatbot similar to ChatGPT.

Chinese technology giant Baidu has strongly refuted recent claims suggesting a connection between its artificial intelligence chatbot, Ernie, and military research conducted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The allegations, initially reported by the South China Morning Post, asserted that the PLA cyber warfare division tested its AI system on Baidu’s Ernie and another AI chatbot similar to ChatGPT.

Baidu’s stock saw a significant decline, dropping more than 11.5% following the publication of the news. The company promptly issued a statement denying any collaboration with the authors of the academic paper affiliated with the PLA or their institutions. Baidu emphasized that Ernie Bot is available for public use and has not been engaged in any business collaboration related to military research.

The academic paper from the PLA Information Engineering University reportedly detailed how researchers used Ernie Bot to generate simulated military response plans for Libyan troops in response to a hypothetical U.S. military attack. Baidu contends that the usage of large language models like Ernie Bot was within the standard functionalities available to any user interacting with such AI tools.

Ernie Bot, similar to ChatGPT, allows users to pose questions or requests, with the AI generating content based on the initial prompt. However, it is subject to censorship rules common in many internet services in China, refraining from answering politically sensitive or taboo questions.

The South China Morning Post report 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.

Investors expressed concerns, with fears mounting that Chinese technology firms linked to the military or government could face sanctions similar to those imposed on companies like Huawei by the U.S. The ongoing tensions between China and the U.S. over trade, technology, and geopolitical issues further contribute to the apprehensions in the market.

Baidu, a leading search engine operator and AI firm in China launched Ernie Bot in August 2023, joining the race among Chinese tech companies to create equivalents of popular AI models like ChatGPT. The company reported having over 100 million users for Ernie Bot in December 2023. The recent controversy has sparked discussions around the intersection of AI development, military applications, and the potential repercussions for tech companies operating in sensitive geopolitical environments.