Baidu Launches $145 Million VC Fund to Back AI Startups

UTC by Tolu Ajiboye · 3 min read
Baidu Launches $145 Million VC Fund to Back AI Startups
Photo: Depositphotos

Chinese multinational tech company Baidu is launching a well-heeled fund to support AI development and growth. 

Baidu (NASDAQ: BIDU) appears set to launch a 1-billion yuan ($145 million) venture capital artificial intelligence (AI) fund to support AI startups. Today, the Chinese tech giant announced its AI fund intentions alongside other related initiatives.

In addition to supporting platforms focused on artificial intelligence-generated content, Baidu also plans to launch a contest promoting its own AI product. The Beijing-based tech company explained that the competition would see developers creating applications using its Ernie large language model (LLM). Alternatively, Baidu added that competitors could integrate the bot model into their existing products and services.

The Baidu AI fund initiative underscores the explosive popularity of artificial intelligence tech in everyday use cases. Since the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT late last year, several tech platforms have raced to leverage AI popularity.

Baidu AI Fund Part of Broader Chinese Interest in AI Development

Although ChatGPT’s success spurred AI development and increased interest in the last six months, China has been familiar with the tech. For instance, a recent Reuters report, citing Chinese government sources, said nearly 80 Chinese companies had launched their own LLMs since 2020. Furthermore, the report also stated that the number of China’s LLM releases for 2023 slightly edges out that of the US.

Yesterday, Reuters pointed out that in 2020, China released 2 LLMs compared to 11 in the US. However, by the succeeding year, the number of releases in both nations was even, with 30 LLMs apiece. In 2022, US companies again led with 37, compared to China’s 28. So far in 2023, the East Asian country leads the US with 19 LLMs released versus America’s 18. In conclusion, the report pointed out:

“Judging from the distribution of large-language models released around the world, China and the United States lead by a big margin, accounting for more than 80% of the global total.”

Furthermore, despite the increasingly closer race between China and the US, findings concluded that the latter retains the edge, saying:

“The United States has always ranked first in the world in terms of the number of large-language models.”

Baidu’s Ernie Bot

Baidu, Alibaba (NYSE: BABA), and SenseTime are some Chinese firms that have launched generative AI services in the last few months. For example, in late March, Baidu unveiled its Ernie chatbot to rival ChatGPT’s functionality. The company launched the AI product to interested partners during a closed-door meeting. However, Baidu CEO Robin Li had earlier teased Ernie Bot at a pre-recorded demo session on March 16th. The chatbot was not fully ready at the time, likely contributing to Baidu’s stock drop.

Baidu developed Ernie on its ERNIE LLM and described the chatbot as having advanced promising features. According to the company, more than 650 companies signed up to use Ernie in a wide range of use cases. These use cases include AI cloud functionality, smart device services, autonomous driving applications, and searches.

Ernie is an abbreviation for Enhanced Representation through Knowledge Integration.

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