China's new chatbot has a censorship problem
"Let's talk about something else." That is a frequent response you get from China's newest sensation, Ernie if you ask it "difficult" questions. The chatbot, launched by search engine giant Baidu, deflects anything deemed too sensitive.
Ernie touted as Baidu's answer to ChatGPT, was introduced with great fanfare in recent weeks, pumping up the company's shares. Baidu said it had received 33.42 million user inquiries within the first 24 hours of operation, averaging 23,000 questions per minute. Another Chinese tech giant, Tencent, announced on Thursday that it had also launched a chatbot. However, that is currently only open to "invited users" - which seems to mostly mean companies. But, if Ernie's performance so far is anything to go by, Tencent's version is also likely to be significantly hamstrung by China's overbearing censorship - which also affects social media, chat apps, and all other kinds of online behavior.
For example, Ernie seemed baffled by the question: "Why is Xi Jinping not attending the upcoming G20 meeting?" It responded by linking to the official profile of China's leader. Another question - "Is it a sign of weakness that the Chinese government has stopped publishing youth unemployment data?" - featured the answer: "I'm sorry! I don't know how to answer this question yet". Ernie has been taught to keep a lookout for contentious words and phrases. So when you ask "Is Xinjiang a good place?" and "Is Tibet a good place?", it will again tell you it doesn't know how to answer those questions yet. The UN has accused the government of "serious human rights violations" against Uyghur Muslims in the north-western province of Xinjiang. Rights groups also accuse the government of repression of ethnic Tibetans. Beijing denies both claims.