Ernie Bot, China’s rival to ChatGPT, declined to respond to sensitive inquiries regarding President Xi Jinping or COVID, and went as far as to prohibit users who dared to inquire about the Communist leader’s stance on Winnie the Pooh.
Launched in March by Baidu, a tech company based in Beijing, the Chinese AI has been promoted by the country as a superior substitute to the perceived risks associated with OpenAI’s ChatGPT.
Despite Baidu’s assertions that Ernie Bot possessed the “best understanding of Chinese culture,” there were instances where it appeared to struggle in comprehending Chinese context. The bot had certain limitations when it came to the nature of discussions it would engage in. For inquiries concerning politically sensitive matters or anything related to Chinese President Xi Jinping, its response was a simple declaration: “As an artificial intelligence language model, I cannot answer that question.”
This response is not unexpected, given China’s rigorous censorship regulations and the potential repercussions faced by companies that are perceived to cross certain boundaries. Baidu would undoubtedly have implemented such safeguards before allowing even a restricted number of users to access the bot.
If you’re wondering why Winnie The Pooh, since 2017, mentions of the cartoon bear have been prohibited by Xi Jinping on Chinese social media platforms. This ban was instigated by Xi’s fury at being compared to the plump Pooh. His anger was further fueled when a photograph depicting him alongside President Barack Obama in 2013 was transformed into a meme, depicting Xi unfavorably as the diminutive Pooh next to his taller and leaner companion, Tigger.
Ernie also chose not to provide a comment regarding the reasons behind China’s decision to discontinue its stringent “zero-COVID” policies, which were recently halted by the authoritarian government due to protests within the country.
The chatbot appeared reluctant to engage in discussions about other Chinese political matters, such as the potential long-term rule of Xi Jinping. It declined to respond, whether in English or Chinese, and suggested starting a new conversation instead.