Five Chinese tech firms, including Baidu and SenseTime Group, unveiled their artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots to the public on Thursday after winning government approval as China’s government, competing with the United States, pushes to stop deploying such products to expand.
Baidu, China’s leading online search provider, said in a statement that its ChatGPT-like chatbot Ernie Bot is now fully open to the public. A SenseTime spokesperson emailed Reuters that the chatbot SenseChat is now also “fully available to all users”.
Three AI startups, Baichuan Intelligent Technology, Zhipu AI and MiniMax also announced similar public launches on Thursday.
Shares of Baidu and SenseTime soared in Hong Kong trade, gaining 2.1 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively, while the broader market traded 0.55 percent lower.
Unlike other countries, China requires companies to submit safety assessments and obtain approval before launching mass-market AI products.
Authorities have recently stepped up efforts to help companies develop AI as the technology increasingly comes under the spotlight of competition from the United States.
Chinese media reported that a total of 11 companies have received government approvals, including TikTok-owner ByteDance and Tencent Holdings. Neither company immediately responded to requests for comment on its AI plans.
Baidu CEO Robin Li said Thursday that by making Ernie Bot widely available, Baidu would “gather a tremendous amount of valuable real-world human feedback” to further improve the chatbot.
Baidu also plans to release a series of “AI-native apps,” the company said.
Early mover advantage
It’s unclear if Alibaba received approval this week. However, a spokesperson for Alibaba Cloud told Reuters that the company has completed filing for its Tongyi Qianwen AI model and that the model is awaiting its official launch.
The person also said the company expects regulators to release a list of companies with permits within the coming week.
Being first to market in China is seen as crucial to the country’s unforgiving internet industry. Baidu’s Ernie Bot ranked first in the free apps category in Apple’s App Store in China on Thursday after the announcement.
“I think those who are approved have an early mover advantage because they can refine their product faster than the competition,” said Kai Wang, an analyst at Morningstar.
ChatGPT maker OpenAI, which is backed by Microsoft, is on track to generate more than $1 billion (nearly Rs8,270 crore) in revenue over the next 12 months, tech-focused publication The Information reported on Tuesday .
The approvals were eagerly awaited after China released a set of interim rules regulating generative AI products to the public, which came into effect on August 15.
So far, companies have only been allowed to conduct small public tests of AI products. However, with the new rules, companies have expanded their AI product testing by enabling more features and doing more marketing. Products targeting businesses do not require prior regulatory approval.
Shawn Yang, an analyst at Blue Lotus Capital Advisors, said the government’s decision to give the green light to AI products could trigger consolidation in the industry.
“A lot of people jumped into the big language model business,” he said, “but the industry may soon consolidate. Only those with data and technical skills will be able to move forward.”
© Thomson Reuters 2023