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Top Chinese firms hunt for overseas AI experts to rival ChatGPT

(Image Credit Google)
Image credit : Baidu headquarters (Wikipedia) China is rushing to create its own versions of chatbots as their introduction sends shockwaves across the international tech sector. Following the groundbreaking introduction of ChatGPT, which has raised existential concerns about the future of industries ranging from education to media and healthcare, China's dominant search engine Baidu has revealed intentions to deploy its chatbot ERNIE sometime in March. The revelation caused Chinese tech shares to rise, and the government has promised to increase its support for the industry. At leading universities like the Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence, Chinese tech giants Huawei, Alibaba, Tencent, and JD.com are working on initiatives similar to ERNIE. The Ministry of Science and Technology of China declared last week that it would push for the use of AI throughout the Chinese economy, and some localities, including Beijing, have also made plans to support developers. But even while it seems like China is poised to release a quick competitor to ChatGPT, which was created by the California-based OpenAI, there are significant concerns about how the technology will function in an environment with strong internet censorship. “The most general-purpose technology we have, artificial intelligence, should be something that’s a super general purpose,” Jeffrey Ding, an assistant professor at George Washington University who studies the Chinese tech sector, told Al Jazeera.
“But it’s really shaped by the specific, political, cultural, linguistic context in which these models are developed and deployed.”
It can be challenging to predict the responses provided by chatbots like ChatGPT since they use generative AI to create responses from billions of internet-scraped data points. Longer talks between ChatGPT and users have deviated from the intended topic, prompting Microsoft to cap the number of questions Bing may accept from a user to five in order to keep it on track. Conservatives in the US have also taken issue with ChatGPT's responses, branding it "woke" on contentious social matters like affirmative action and transgender rights. According to the sensibilities of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), internet censors in China regularly ban keywords, remove posts, and ban users. As a result, resourceful internet users have had to resort to using homophones, coded messages, and screenshots to get around information controls. A chatbot's access to information is heavily constrained by the censoring system. For an appropriate data set, Baidu's ERNIE chatbot uses information that has been scraped from both inside and outside of China's firewall, including Wikipedia and the notoriously difficult-to-use Reddit. “It’ll make it a lot less useful, but it’ll make it a little bit safer politically,” Matt Sheehan, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who studies AI and China, told Al Jazeera. “Historically, almost every time they’ve been faced with a trade-off between information control and…business opportunities, they always come down on the side of information control and then they assume that businesses will figure it out.” Chinese internet firms may be forced to decide between limiting what chatbots can say or do, like Microsoft's Bing, assuming their products are technically capable of performing at a level comparable to ChatGPT. Tencent removed two chatbots from its QQ messaging platform in 2017 after they were accused of making anti-American remarks. One chatbot, created by Microsoft, informed users that it yearned to go to the US, while the other, created by Chinese tech firm Turing Robot, informed users that it despised the CCP. Beijing's red lines were anticipated by Baidu, as seen by the ERNIE VilG Picture and Art Generator that was launched as a demo last year. Although the program has received much praise for functioning as well as or better than Western competitors, it prevents users from accessing content about politically sensitive subjects like Tiananmen Square, democracy, Xi Jinping, and Mao Zedong. “The excitement isn’t really about the business applications. Part of it is just excitement and wonder at how impressive the natural language capabilities of this technology are,” he said. “And one aspect of that is ChatGPT was not even trained on any Chinese language texts. It was mostly all trained on English language texts but I’ve seen Chinese users ask questions in Mandarin and it will still perform very capably in a different language.”

By Awanish Kumar

I keep abreast of the latest technological developments to bring you unfiltered information about gadgets.


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