- Major tech companies in the US and China rushed this month to announce that they are working on artificial intelligence tools similar to ChatGPT.
- Their announcements often referenced ChatGPT while revealing few details about what they themselves were working on.
- Here’s what companies say they’re doing with the technology.
An exhibit at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, China, on Friday, September 2, 2022.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images
BEIJING – ChatGPT’s business story is more about what is not known at the moment.
Major tech companies in the US and China rushed this month to announce they are working on similar AI tools. Their announcements often referenced the Microsoft-backed ChatGPT, while disclosing few details about what they themselves were working on.
Artificial intelligence-powered chatbot ChatGPT has taken the tech world by storm in recent months with its ability to generate everything from poems to business strategies in a human-like conversation.
Still, analysts say the technology is transformative, something that has also been said about blockchain and the metaverse.
Here’s what companies – including those in China – are doing in this specialized area of AI:
US startup OpenAI raced to beat rivals by launching ChatGPT in November, according to The New York Times, citing sources. The public interface skyrocketed in popularity for everything from homework help to strategy development.
OpenAI did not respond to a request for comment.
Database software startup PingCap already has a ChatGPT-based product on the market. The company has offices in Beijing and San Mateo, California.
PingCap launched “Chat2Query” in January for customers outside of China, which uses a publicly available application programming interface from OpenAI.
The product allows customers to analyze their company’s operating data, such as the best-selling car models, in seconds without needing to know a computer programming language, said Liu Song, vice president of PingCap. He said Chat2Query is free for customers processing up to 5 gigabytes of data.
“We think the revolution may not be in AI search, but in every business,” he said in Mandarin, translated by CNBC. However, he noted that that data should be organized in a standardized way.
We think the revolution may not be in AI search, but in every business
PingCap, Vice President
Baidu, the Chinese search engine and technology giant, said on Wednesday that its AI chatbot project will be embedded in search first and open to the public in March.
The product is called “Ernie bot” in English or “Wenxin Yiyan” in Chinese, the company previously said.
While little is known about the Ernie bot’s capabilities — and how they compare to ChatGPT’s — Baidu-backed video streaming platform iQiyi has announced plans to connect to the bot for search and AI-generated content. Jidu, a Baidu-backed electric car startup — which hasn’t started making cars yet — also said it plans to include Ernie bot.
Alibaba will announce its quarterly figures on Thursday evening. The Chinese e-commerce and cloud giant said it is testing ChatGPT-like technology internally and gave no timeline for launch. However, Alibaba said it has been working on related AI technology since 2017.
Chinese e-commerce rival JD.com also had no launch date, but said its “ChatJD” will focus on retail and finance. It will help with tasks such as generating product listings on retail sites and financial analysis, the company said.
Tencent, which runs the ubiquitous Chinese messaging app WeChat, said in a statement that it continues to explore natural language processing. That is the field of artificial intelligence on which ChatGPT is based.
While ChatGPT became a trendy topic in China this month, even for the state media, analysts note that the country’s censorship and data regulations could affect how similar technology develops in the country. Beijing has placed emphasis on building its own technological capabilities.
Nikkei Asia reported on Wednesday, citing sources, that regulators have told Tencent and Alibaba-affiliated Ant Group not to offer access to ChatGPT services on their platforms, either directly or through third parties.
The report did not specify which regulators. China’s cybersecurity regulator Tencent and Ant did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In terms of technical prowess, however, the US is only months — not years — ahead of China in that AI research, a Microsoft executive told journalists this month. ChatGPT is not available in China, although Microsoft operates in the country.
The executive said the state-backed Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence is one of three global leaders in artificial intelligence research, along with Google’s DeepMind and Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI.
Kunlun Tech expects to release an open source Chinese version of ChatGPT as early as the middle of this year, President Han Fang told CNBC last week. Open source software is available to the public and allows anyone to view, modify, or distribute the code.
The company, which generates most of its revenue outside of China, previously said its niche web browser Opera plans to include ChatGPT in its products, though it’s unclear when and with what features.
Kunlun Tech is already working in the field of AI-generated content, such as music.
Fang said his commercialization plan is to develop those AI tools first. Creators can then use the tools to create their own work and publish it on designated platforms for public viewing, after which the company can then sell ads, he said. He expects to launch the platforms later this year.
Fang said he was directly inspired by OpenAI’s early version of ChatGPT technology in 2020.
“We all talk about the metaverse, but who’s in it?” he said in Mandarin, translated by CNBC. “It only changed our news. It didn’t change our lives.”
Instead, he said generative AI technology can provide immediate value because it works where users are already producing and consuming content. Generative AI can also reduce production costs, making it easy for animators and minority language speakers to create their own content, Fang said.
The impact on jobs and sectors remains significant.
The advent of AI like ChatGPT means that many “cognitive tasks” seem easier to automate than manual work, such as in factories – a surprise to many economists, says Anton Korinek, a professor in the Department of Economics and Darden School of Business, University of Virginia .
“The impressive but also a bit scary thing is that the power of these systems has steadily increased over the past few years,” he said, adding that he expects more powerful AI technology this year alone.
“That will really imply that these models will have a revolutionary impact on our economy, on productivity, on labor markets and ultimately on society in general.”
– CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal and Lauren Feiner contributed to this report.
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