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BEIJING: Chinese search giant Baidu reported Wednesday that revenue fell by one percent in 2022 but also said it will include its artificial intelligence chatbot Ernie in its search services from March.

The firm posted revenue of 123.7 billion yuan ($17.9 billion) for the latest fiscal year, down from 124.5 billion in 2021.

Baidu CEO Robin Li said the company plans to launch its AI chatbot Ernie in March and integrate it into several services, including search, its smart speaker Xiaodu, and its operating system for self-driving cars.

“We will integrate Ernie bot into our search (operation) and open it to the public in March,” Li said during a call with analysts on Wednesday.

“We plan to fully integrate Ernie bot across all our products.”

Baidu said this month it was testing an AI-powered chatbot as tech giants rush to match the success of ChatGPT, a hugely popular language app that has sparked a gold rush in AI technology.

Baidu to finish testing ChatGPT-style project ‘Ernie Bot’ in March

The company, which operates China’s biggest online search engine, identified long-term investments in artificial intelligence (AI) as part of its growth plans.

“2022 was a challenging year, but we used this period to prepare the company for better times,” Li said in a separate statement.

“In 2023, we believe we have a clear path to reaccelerate our revenue growth and we are now well positioned to make use of the opportunities that China’s economic recovery offers us,” he said.

Baidu has diversified in recent years into artificial intelligence, cloud computing and autonomous driving technologies as advertising revenue remained sluggish.

It is one of several Chinese tech titans, including Alibaba, Tencent and Netease, racing to expand after Beijing abruptly dropped its strict Covid rules in December and began easing a bruising crackdown on the sector.

Beijing had gotten tough on the tech industry since late 2020 as part of an effort to curb monopolistic practices and promote competition between internet platforms.

The strategy of record fines, torched IPOs and probes into major firms hit revenues and placed further strain on the ailing economy.

Combined revenue at China’s internet companies shrank by just over one percent to 1.46 trillion yuan in 2022, the first contraction in almost a decade, according to data from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

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