A visitor looks at an artificial intelligence-powered large language model during an expo in Shanghai. （Photo/China Daily）
Experts say govt approval will bolster tech advances and commercialization
A group of Chinese technology companies and research institutions on Thursday opened their artificial intelligence-powered large language models or LLMs to the public, after receiving approvals from the Chinese authorities.
Industry experts called it a key move that will promote technological advances and commercialization of generative AI.
The first batch of companies and organizations to make their LLMs available to the public includes Chinese tech heavyweights Baidu Inc and ByteDance, AI firms Baichuan Intelligent Technology, SenseTime, Zhipu AI and MiniMax, and two research institutes — the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Shanghai Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
Baidu announced on Thursday its ChatGPT-like LLM Ernie Bot is now fully open to the general public starting Thursday. Users can download Ernie Bot from various app stores or experience it through its official website, the company said.
Robin Li, co-founder and CEO of Baidu, said by making Ernie Bot available to hundreds of millions of internet users, Baidu will collect massive valuable real-world human feedback. This will not only help improve the company's foundational model but also iterate Ernie Bot at a much faster pace and enhance user experience, he said.
The company is also set to launch a suite of new AI-native apps that allow users to experience core abilities of generative AI, Baidu said in a statement.
In July, Chinese authorities issued a 24-item guideline for managing generative AI services, which took effect on Aug 15. The authorities said providers who want to offer such services to the public should submit security assessments and obtain necessary approvals.
The country encourages the innovative development of generative AI and supervises the technology using methods compatible with innovation and development, according to the interim measures.
Lu Yanxia, research director at market consultancy IDC China, said making LLMs available to the public will boost the former's iterations and upgrade, and promote technological advances as well as the large-scale commercial use of LLMs.
"The LLMs will speed up integration with a wide range of industries and application scenarios, which necessitates a higher demand for data and knowledge in professional fields, and for talent that can fine-tune specialized models based on diverse industrial demands," Lu said.
She added that LLMs have also triggered a new AI wave and brought fresh business opportunities to domestic AI servers, cloud computing and chip companies.
Other leading Chinese tech companies such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, iFlytek Co Ltd and Tencent Holdings Ltd have been aggressively developing their own LLMs.
Alibaba Cloud, Alibaba's cloud computing unit, said on Thursday it had filed for regulatory approval for its own LLM called Tongyi Qianwen, which was introduced in April, and it is now waiting to officially launch the ChatGPT-style chatbot to the public.
"The initial list of companies that have received the approval is expected to be released by relevant local departments within one week," Alibaba Cloud said.
AI company iFlytek also said on Thursday it is among the first batch of Chinese companies that have finished filing with the authorities in accordance with China's new AI rules.
LLMs refer to computer algorithms that are trained with huge amounts of data and are capable of generating content such as images, text, audio and video. They are the key technology underpinning ChatGPT, an AI chatbot that many experts see as a potential game-changer in the world of high-tech.
Pan Helin, co-director of the Digital Economy and Financial Innovation Research Center at Zhejiang University's International Business School, said although LLMs have significant potential for applications in fields like culture, retail, finance, healthcare and education, their real value comes from the consumer market, and the ultimate goal of LLMs in industrial applications is to benefit the people.
He said Chinese AI companies should devote more resources to improving computing power, algorithms and data quality, and step up investment in basic scientific research, to gain a competitive edge in the global AI chatbot race.