Baidu Denies ERNIE Bot Link To Chinese Military Research!

Baidu just denied any link between its ERNIE Bot generative AI service, and a Chinese military AI!


SCMP : Baidu ERNIE Bot Linked To Chinese Military!

On 12 January 2024, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that a research laboratory under the Strategic Support Force cyberwarfare division of the People’s Liberation Army “forged a physical link” between its AI system, and large language models in China, specifically the Baidu ERNIE Bot, and the iFLYTEK Spark.

According to SCMP, the project was detailed in a peer-reviewed paper published in the December 2023 issue of the Chinese academic journal, Command Control & Simulation. It also reported this as the first time the Chinese military has publicly confirmed its use of commercial large language models.

According to scientists involved in the project, a research laboratory with the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Strategic Support Force, which oversees the Chinese military’s space, cyber, intelligence and electronic warfare, has forged a physical link between its AI system and Baidu’s Ernie and iFlyTek’s Spark, which are large language models similar to ChatGPT.

The military AI can convert vast amounts of sensor data and information reported by frontline units into descriptive language or images and relay them to the commercial models. After they confirm they understand, the military AI automatically generates prompts for deeper exchange on various tasks such as combat simulations. The entire process is completely free of human involvement.

The paper by Sun Yifeng and his team from the PLA’s Information Engineering University, discussed how they fed military AI data on the 2011 US military intervention in Libya to large language models like the Baidu ERNIE Bot, and after several rounds of dialogue, they were able to predict the US military’s combat strategy.

In the paper, Sun’s team discussed one of their experiments that simulated a US military invasion of Libya in 2011. The military AI provided information about the weapons and deployment of both armies to the large language models. After several rounds of dialogue, the models successfully predicted the next move of the US military.

After the publication of that story, Baidu’s shares fell by more than 11.5%, amidst fears that such a direct link to the Chinese military would result in US sanctions, not unlike what happened to HUAWEI.

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Baidu Denies ERNIE Bot Link To Chinese Military Research!

Initially, Baidu only stated that it has no knowledge of the research project:

We have no knowledge of the research project, and if our large language model was used, it would have been the version that is publicly available online

However, after its stock price fell, Baidu issued a stronger denial on 15 January 2024.

Baidu stated that it did not have any “business collaboration” with Sun Yifeng’s team, or the PLA’s Information Engineering University, and stated that if ERNIE Bot was used in that research, it would have been the publicly-available version.

ERNIE Bot is available to and used by the general public.

The academic paper, published by scholars at a Chinese university, described how the authors built prompts and received responses from LLMs, using the functions available to any user interacting with generative AI tools.

Baidu has not engaged in any business collaboration or provided any tailored service to authors of the academic paper or any institutions with which they are affiliated.

Baidu also sated that SCMP has since “clarified and corrected” its report.

The South China Morning Post, the first media outlet that reported on this academic paper, has clarified and corrected its original media report.

SCMP removed its reference to a physical link between Ernie Bot and any Chinese military AI system, amending it t o say that the PLA laboratory tested its AI system system on Baidu Ernie and iFLYTEK Spark.


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Dr. Adrian Wong has been writing about tech and science since 1997, even publishing a book with Prentice Hall called Breaking Through The BIOS Barrier (ISBN 978-0131455368) while in medical school.

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