Baidu said on Tuesday it has “comprehensively reshaped” its product portfolios thanks to its AI foundation model ERNIE, resulting in increased operational efficiency, after the Chinese search giant company reported 6% year-on-year revenue growth to RMB 34.4 billion in the third quarter. However, the company’s cloud unit reported its first decline in revenue in almost three years.
Why it matters: Baidu pointed to artificial intelligence bringing about positive changes in key performance indicators across all of its businesses in its latest earnings report. The firm also highlighted that its ChatGPT-like service ERNIE Bot has already amassed 70 million users.
Details: Although the company’s overall growth was up, Baidu’s AI cloud revenue decreased by 2% in the three months to September. Robin Li, CEO of the firm, said this was due to weak demand in smart transportation projects, despite strong demand for generative AI. The figures marked the first decline in Baidu’s cloud business since it started announcing its earnings separately in the last quarter of 2020.
Online advertising business, which accounts for over half of Baidu’s total earnings, experienced 5% year-on-year revenue growth during the period. This growth rate was slower than the preceding two quarters and lags behind some of its internet-focused peers.
During the related earnings call, Li expressed confidence that Baidu’s current chip reserves could “keep improving ERNIE Bot for up to two years” amid the US’s tightening of curbs on advanced chip exports to China. He did, however, add that Baidu will still seek alternatives due to the pace of AI development in China being “inevitably” impacted by difficulties in acquiring the most advanced chips.
The chief executive of Baidu warned a week ago that China’s rush to develop multiple large language models had led to a “wasting of resources,” and he again told investors on the call that “the best option on the market” is companies developing AI-native apps based on Baidu’s foundation model rather than training models themselves.
Baidu also named JD CEO Sandy Xu as an independent director of its board effective from the beginning of 2024.
Context: Baidu’s large language model, ERNIE, was made available to the public at the end of August after receiving government approval. Last month, Baidu launched the latest version of its AI model, ERNIE 4.0, seven months after the release of its first version.