Future Tech

Baidu admits it may never get leading-edge GPUs again

Tan KW
Publish date: Thu, 29 Feb 2024, 03:03 PM
Tan KW
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Future Tech

Chinese web giant Baidu has told investors its long-term planning assumes it won't be able to access leading-edge GPUs, but that it can beat local rivals with its superior software stack.

"In the long run, we may not have access to the most cutting-edge GPUs, but with the most efficient homegrown software stack, net-net, the user experience will not be compromised," said Baidu CEO Robin Li during the outfit's Q4 2023 earnings call.

Li described the short-term impact of US chip sanctions as "minimal", because inferencing doesn't require Nvidia's mightiest wares. Between its existing reserve of chips and the products it can buy, he said Baidu maintains sufficient power for "many" AI-native applications.

"We already have the most powerful foundation model in China, and our AI chip reserve enables us to continue enhancing ERNIE for the next one or two years," argued Li. ERNIE is Baidu's ChatGPT challenger.

"There's ample room for innovation in the application layer, the model layer, and the framework layer. Our end-to-end self-developed four-layer AI architecture, along with our strong R&D team, will support us in using less advanced chips for efficient model training and inferencing," he added before pivoting to call the ability to perform with less powerful equipment "a unique competitive advantage over our domestic peers."

The question that prompted Li to offer that response was regarding how Baidu can compete with overseas clouds - but Li chose to frame his response only in terms of competition with local rivals, all of which will also be deprived of Nvidia's most powerful products while the likes of AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud gobble as many H100s as they can find.

The CEO also claimed Baidu is equipped with China's most cost-efficient AI infrastructure for model training and inferencing.

Li described working within China as operating in a macro environment with a lot of uncertainty - albeit one with a lot of opportunities.

"GenAI and large language models are reshaping the competitive landscape of China's public cloud inventory and enhancing our competitive advantage," insisted Li. The CEO also asserted that when cloud and mobile are combined, Baidu's growth was faster than that of China's GDP.

"I think we will be able to sustain our long-term growth," he mused.

Baidu's total revenues were RMB134.6 billion ($18.96 billion) - a 9 percent year over year increase for the 2023 fiscal year.

The multi-armed web titan, which positions itself as "a leading AI company with a strong internet foundation," credits its revenue growth to ad technology improvement and helping enterprises build their own models.

Total revenue from the generative AI and foundation model related businesses reached RMB656 million ($91 million) in Q4 - a number CFO Rong Luo predicted "should grow to several billion RMB for the full year 2024." ®



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