China's Alibaba, one of the largest e-commerce companies in the world, has announced the launch of its own artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot, Tongyi Qianwen. According to the company, the AI aims to rival OpenAI's powerful ChatGPT. The chatbot is currently open for testing by invitation only to some corporate customers, according to an announcement posted on Alibaba Cloud's official WeChat account (via Reuters).
Tongyi Qianwen, which translates roughly to “Truth from a Thousand Questions”, is a large language model that can understand and generate natural language based on massive amounts of data. The chatbot can serve as an efficient assistant for various tasks, such as answering questions, generating ideas, writing summaries, and creating content. The chatbot is also expected to integrate with Alibaba's productivity tools.
The chatbot is developed by Alibaba's advanced research institute, the DAMO Academy. It plans to launch several industry-specific application models based on Tongyi Qianwen at the 2023 Alibaba Cloud Summit on April 11. It also reportedly plans to release a larger model that could be comparable to ChatGPT 2.5 in the second half of this year.
Alibaba is the latest Chinese tech giant to join the race of developing home-grown alternatives to ChatGPT, which has been widely regarded as one of the most advanced AI tools in the world.
The Rise of ChatGPT and Microsoft's Serious Investment
ChatGPT, created research organization OpenAI, is a deep learning system that can generate coherent and fluent texts on almost any topic, given a few words or sentences as input. The tool has attracted a lot of attention and investment from various industries and companies, such as Microsoft Corp., which has poured $10 billion into OpenAI.
Microsoft has fully embraced the GPT-4 AI engine that underpins ChatGPT. The Redmond company has folded the AI into many services with products such as Bing Chat, Bing Image Creator, Microsoft Edge Copilot, Microsoft 365 Copilot for Office apps, Azure OpenAI Service, and GitHub Copilot.
However, ChatGPT has also faced some challenges and controversies, such as ethical issues, security risks, and accessibility problems. Last week, OpenAI's chatbot was banned in Italy and there are reports that Germany will follow suit due to concerns over safety and privacy.
ChatGPT is also mostly focused on English language processing, so it is not an ideal toll for the Chinese market.
Chinese Companies Looking to Rival AI Solutions
Therefore, many Chinese tech companies have been developing their own versions of ChatGPT-like tools to cater to the domestic market and to compete with the global leader. For example, Baidu Inc., China's largest search engine provider, launched its own AI chatbot Ernie Bot in March 2023, claiming that it outperformed ChatGPT in several Chinese NLP tasks.
Baidu is a heavy investor in artificial intelligence through its Ernie system. This is a scalable AI model that has been in development for years. Ernie provides the underpinning machine learning for the upcoming chatbot.
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