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 right now is more about what’s not known.
Big 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-powered ChatGPT, while revealing few details about what they were working on themselves.
The artificial intelligence-based chatbot ChatGPT has taken the tech world by storm in recent months with its ability to generate everything from poetry to business strategies in a human-like conversation.
Still, analysts say the technology is transformative, as has 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 popularity of the public interface for everything from homework help to strategy development skyrocketed.
An OpenAI spokesman said the company had nothing to add to the Times report.
ChatGPT for enterprise software
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 operational data — such as top-selling car models — in seconds without knowing a computer programming language, said Liu Song, vice president of PingCap. He said Chat2Query is free for customers handling up to 5 gigabytes of data.
“We believe the revolution may not be in AI search but in every business,” he said in Mandarin, translated by CNBC. However, he found that this data needs to be organized in a standardized way.
We believe the revolution may not be in AI search, but in every business
PingCap, Vice President
baiduthe Chinese search engine and tech giant said on Wednesday 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 announced.
Though little is known about the Ernie bot’s capabilities — and how they compare to the Baidu-powered video streaming platform ChatGPT iQiyi has announced plans to connect to the bot for search and AI-generated content. Baidu-backed electric car startup Jidu — which hasn’t started shipping cars yet — also said it plans to integrate Ernie Bot.
Ali Baba should publish the quarterly results on Thursday evening. The Chinese e-commerce and cloud giant said it is testing ChatGPT technology internally and did not give a timeline for rollout. However, Alibaba said it has been working on related AI technology since 2017.
Chinese e-commerce rival JD.com also didn’t have a launch date, but said “ChatJD” will focus on retail and finance. It will help with tasks like generating product summaries on shopping pages and financial analysis, the company said.
Tencent, which runs the ubiquitous Chinese messaging app WeChat, said in a statement that it continues to research natural language processing. This is the field within artificial intelligence on which ChatGPT is based.
While ChatGPT became a trending topic in China this month, even for state media, analysts note that the country’s censorship and data regulations could influence the development of similar technologies in the country. Beijing has emphasized building its own technological capabilities.
Nikkei Asia reported Wednesday, citing sources, that regulators have told Tencent and Alibaba subsidiary 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 capabilities, however, the US is only months – not years – ahead of China in this AI research, a Microsoft executive told reporters this month. ChatGPT is not available in China, although Microsoft operates in the country.
The executive said that the state-backed Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence, along with Google’s DeepMind and Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI, is one of three global leaders in artificial intelligence research.
AI creative content
Kunlun Tech expects to release an open-source Chinese version of ChatGPT as early as the middle of this year, its president Han Fang told CNBC last week. Open source software is publicly available and allows anyone to view, modify, or distribute the code.
The company, which derives most of its sales outside of China, previously said its niche web browser Opera plans to integrate ChatGPT into its products, although 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 these AI tools first. Creators can then use the tools to create their own work and post 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 just changed our messaging. It didn’t change our lives.”
In contrast, he said that generative AI technology can provide immediate value because it is deployed where users are already producing and consuming content. Generative AI can also lower production costs, allowing animators and minority language speakers to easily create their own content, Fang said.
The impact on jobs and industries remains significant.
The arrival of AI like ChatGPT means many “cognitive tasks” seem easier to automate than manual labor like in factories — a surprise to many economists, said Anton Korinek, a professor in the Department of Economics and the Darden School of Business, University of Virginia .
“The impressive, but also a bit scary, part 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.
“What this really means is that these models will have a revolutionary impact on our economy, productivity, labor markets and ultimately society in general.”
– CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal and Lauren Feiner contributed to this report.