Chinese search giant Baidu (NASDAQ: BIDU), during its annual corporate conference on Tuesday, for the first time showcased a Mandarin-speaking AI-powered chatbot, dubbed “Duxiaoxiao,” which boasts emotional intelligence (EQ) capabilities, according to the company. Baidu also unveiled further enhancements to its self-driving systems and AI open platform Baidu Brain.
The voice assistant Duxiaoxiao, which was introduced by the Baidu Mobile Ecosystem Group—that is also responsible for the Baidu flagship app—is currently only available on Android app stores as a standalone application. It responds when the user wakes it up by calling its name, asking questions—which the bot is answering promptly. Beyond just looking up information, it is able to learn about a user’s preferences as they address it and develop a “personality” along the way.
“It’s an interactive product based on DuerOS [the latest version of its conversational AI system] and it can adapt to suit each user’s needs based on their habits,” said Ping Xiaoli, VP and general manager of the Baidu app, in an interview with KrASIA.
“The current version is still in its early stage, our team will present the refined product officially,” she said, without disclosing a detailed timeline.
Baidu also operates a voice assistant named Xiaodu, which is also based on DuerOS, but specializes in cognitive intelligence (IQ), similar to Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s other intelligent voice assistant, Cortana. Xiaodu is available on the Baidu app, the Baidu Maps app, and Baidu’s smart speaker.
On Tuesday’s conference, which was held in partnership with state broadcaster CCTV and livestreamed via the Baidu app to users, the company also showed how Xiaodu has been installed in hotel rooms, delivering a better experience to users and benefiting the hospitality industry.
Regarding Duxiaoxiao, Ping added that it comes as part of Baidu’s strategy to offer personalized services through mobile platforms and voice assistants, which are expected to be one of the most important gateways to search and other services.
Pivot from search
The company has in recent years been pivoting from search to AI technologies to revitalize itself, as the tech giant lost its luster when users spend more time on ByteDance’s short-video app Douyin or Tencent’s WeChat.
Baidu’s main app, which has over 230 million daily active users (DAUs), has evolved into a “super app” that also provides news feeds and other services. By comparison, Douyin on Wednesday announced that it has surpassed 600 million DAUs, while WeChat reported monthly active users (MAUs) of 1.2 billion. Ping said that the number of MAUs for Baidu’s mini programs already reached 500 million.
Both ByteDance and Tencent are working on in-house search engines—Toutiao Search and WeChat Search—to attract traffic, challenging Baidu’s core business. It’s already reflected in Baidu’s numbers. In the second quarter, total revenue was USD 3.69 billion, decreasing 1% year-on-year (YoY), while online marketing revenues declined 8% YoY to USD 2.5 billion.
At the conference, Baidu also showcased its fully autonomous vehicle Apollo without a backup driver, 5G-enabled remote driving service, the true wireless smart earbuds XiaoduPods, and the upgraded Baidu Brain 6.0, which supports industrial AI applications and Baidu Cloud.