This story appears in the November 2023 issue of Forbes Asia. Subscribe to Forbes Asia
This story is part of Forbes’ coverage of China’s Richest 2023. See the full list here.
Robin Li, cofounder and chairman of Chinese search giant Baidu, is seeking to unlock new revenue streams in the race to gain an edge in generative AI. The tech tycoon took to the stage at a company event in October to unveil Baidu’s latest AI model, Ernie 4.0, saying it’s now just as good as Silicon Valley rival OpenAI’s GPT-4—able to use reasoning and logic to answer questions, create content and solve tough math problems, alongside other advanced features.
Baidu plans to build Ernie 4.0 into its products, including maps, cloud services and its search engine, and expand sales of its AI-powered applications. Among these are a search function that can respond to user questions with human-like conversations and a business data analytics tool to estimate costs and project delivery times.
While it is too early to discount the company’s long-term potential in AI, Kai Wang, a Hong Kong-based senior equity analyst at research firm Morningstar, wrote in an Oct. 24 note that new chip export restrictions announced by the U.S. government in mid-October could deal a “serious blow” to Baidu’s AI business. The restrictions will put lower performing chips increasingly out of reach for China’s tech giants, after last year’s export controls made it difficult for the firms to acquire the most advanced chips needed to train AI models. Ahead of the move, Baidu was reportedly among several Chinese tech firms that in August ordered $5 billion worth of Nvidia chips to be delivered this year and next. A Baidu representative didn’t respond to a request for comment.
For now the company, dual-listed on the Nasdaq and Hong Kong Stock Exchange, relies heavily on online advertising. In the second quarter, total revenue rose a better-than-expected 15% from a year ago, with online ad revenue contributing 60% or $2.7 billion. Li is No. 48 with a net worth of $6.4 billion.