The Chinese AI industry roars into action with model releases

September 6, 2023

AI China

Baidu recently released its large language model (LLM) ERNIE to the Chinese public, and Tencent will be releasing AI products of its own this week.

Last week, Baidu announced that China’s Cyberspace Administration had given the thumbs up to the Chabot ERNIE. 

The company later disclosed that they were deploying some 70 various AI products, though it’s unclear whether these are AI-integrated products (like ChatGPT and the Bing Browser), individual models, modules, functions, a mixture of those, or something else.

This week, Tencent, one of China’s internet behemoths, recently teased the launch of an AI chatbot that resembles ChatGPT. 

Based in Shenzhen, Tencent posted on Chinese social media WeChat Wednesday to build anticipation for a two-day summit starting Thursday. The post included a sample conversation demonstrating how the chatbot assisted a user in crafting content.

The move follows China’s recent policy change allowing the public release of AI chatbots. Other prominent Chinese tech firms, including SenseTime, debuted their chatbots last week. 

Tencent has been working on its AI model, “Hunyuan,” for several months. Last month, the company announced that it was extending internal tests of the model. 

China had taken a patient approach to releasing AI to the public, partly due to fears of the technology’s potential to undermine the government. 

Tests involving ERNIE found it provided censored responses to provocative sociopolitical questions surrounding Taiwan, Hong Kong, and leader Xi Jinping – something the government was likely looking for prior to greenlighting the model. 

Over 70 models now available in China, reports Baidu CEO

Robin Li, CEO of Baidu, China’s dominant search engine, disclosed that over 70 large language models (LLMs) are now accessible in China. 

ERNIE bot works similarly to ChatGPT, but with fewer parameters to GPT-4, at least.

Baidu handles more than 90% of the country’s search traffic and stands as one of its largest online platforms alongside Alibaba and Tencent.

AI patents: US vs China

Data from research firm GlobalData indicates that the US has significantly outstripped China regarding generative AI patents filed between August 2022 and August 2023. 

The US filed 45,253 patents during this period, compared to China’s 9,005.

The developments from Tencent and Baidu underline China’s accelerating efforts to close the gap with the US in the AI sector, especially as the country begins to relax restrictions on AI chatbots. 

Meanwhile, the US has moved to further encumber China’s procurement of high-end GPU chips, an action which may also restrict trade with the Middle East and other Chinese allies. 

The Gulf nations are the third horse in the AI race, recently ordering 3,000 chips from Nvidia, though that pales in comparison to recent orders from Chinese companies to the tune of $5 billion in value. 

Nvidia is more-or-less single-handedly supporting this demand. The company recently swatted away speculation about a drop-off in revenue resulting from raw materials shortages by posting record quarterly revenues

China has stepped up and shown they’re not afraid of affording their businesses and citizens the same productivity as Western AI developers.

They’re only just getting started, and the AI race will yield plenty of twists and turns in years forthcoming.

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Sam Jeans

Sam is a science and technology writer who has worked in various AI startups. When he’s not writing, he can be found reading medical journals or digging through boxes of vinyl records.


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