Chinese tech giants join AI chatbot race but face challenges due to CCP censorship
By Cassie B. // Mar 03, 2023

When the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT launched in November, it shook up the tech industry and started an AI race around the world. Google was quick to follow suit with its own offering, Bard, although its tool suffered public embarrassment after making a factual error during a public demonstration, leading to a $100 billion loss in market value. Several Chinese companies have also thrown their names into the mix, including Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent.

ChatGPT is officially banned in China on the pretense of national security concerns, but the Chinese Communist Party has said it will support homegrown apps that follow its strict censorship laws.

Chinese tech firm Tencent unveiled plans this week to develop a bot that functions like ChatGPT known as Hunyuan Aide. It will be built on their existing AI model, which is considered one of the most advanced in the world when it comes to human language understanding and that gives it a significant edge in the Chinese-speaking market.

Alibaba announced last month that its research institute, Damo Academy, is working on ChatGTP-like service.

Alibaba's chief executive officer, Daniel Zhang, said in his firm's last earnings call that they're expecting exponential growth in the demand for computing power to support various artificial intelligence applications, something he says will present “a big opportunity” for his company.

Rival tech firm and search giant Baidu is preparing to launch its ChatGPT competitor, Ernie Bot, this month. CEO Robin Li has said that Ernie Bot will soon be integrated in all of the company’s operations, including cloud services and their search engine. It will also be integrated in their smart speaker and smart car operating system. The company's stock jumped 7 percent following the announcement.

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Baidu is hoping that Ernie Bot will give their already strong presence in the Chinese online search market a boost; Google is blocked there, and Bing has a minor presence.

The state-backed Beijing News has said it will use Ernie Bot for news planning and story pitching. Although it is not expected to be as robust and capable as ChatGPT, some experts expect it to do well compared to its domestic competition.

Tianjin-based independent developer Hao Peiqiang said: "Baidu's answer to ChatGPT may live well within the Great Firewall because it doesn't have to compete with international counterparts. As long as it can satisfy the needs of the domestic market, it will still generate money."

Some Chinese developers are reportedly waiting for GPT-3, which underlies ChatGPT, to become open source so that they can use it as the basis for their own offerings.

Chatbots in China face challenges due to censorship laws

Chinese companies face a unique challenge that their Silicon Valley counterparts will likely never be able to tackle. In addition to trying to create a cutting-edge smart chat bot that is competitive with its rivals, their rendition must also comply with the Chinese Communist Party's strict internet censorship rules. Chinese chatbots will face a seriously limited pool of information to draw upon, which means they are unlikely to perform at the level of ChatGPT.

Some believe that tools like Baidu’s Ernie Bot will rely on traditional keyword filtering systems used to censor internet content in China. Any question or answer that contains sensitive keywords would effectively be blocked.

Earlier this month, the Hangzhou-based startup YuanYu Intelligence suspended its chatbot after it supplied answers that painted the Chinese economy in a negative light, although representatives of the company insisted the real reason was technical errors.

Sources for this article include:

MarketWatch.com

APNews.com

Asia.Nikkei.com



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