China approves chatbots for public use in tech war with US

ChatGPT is not officially available in China.
Sejal Sharma
Flag of USA and China on a processor
Flag of USA and China on a processor


China can’t buy US chips required for advanced artificial intelligence models, but that’s not stopping the country from churning out AI models.

After receiving regulatory approval from the country’s internet watchdog, several Chinese tech companies launched their respective AI chatbots last week. This comes in response to OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which, since its launch, has prompted rival tech companies around the globe to launch their own chatbots.

According to a Reuters report, Baidu CEO Robin Li has claimed that over 70 large language models (LLMs) with over 1 billion parameters have been released in China.

The regulatory approval was given by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) to Baidu, along with AI software provider company SenseTime and AI startups like Baichuan Intelligent Technology, Zhipu AI, and MiniMax.

The Chinese tech sector is reacting to US-based AI tools

Baidu said it would soon launch the latest version of its LLM - Ernie 4. Li called it “one of the best LLMs,” according to a report by the South China Morning Post. When the company launched Ernie 3.5 in June this year, it claimed that the model performed better than GPT-3.5 in a comprehensive ability test. It also claimed that Ernie 3.5 outperformed GPT-4 in some Chinese-language capabilities, according to a test conducted by the state-run newspaper China Science Daily, reported Firstpost.

SenseTime’s chatbot, SenseChat, was also "fully available to serve all users," according to Reuters. Baidu and SenseTime shares increased by 2.1 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively, in Hong Kong trade.

China was one of the first countries to establish stringent rules and guardrails when tech companies rushed to reap the benefits of the generative AI goldmine. The rules will now only apply to services available to the general public in China. Technology developed in research institutions or intended for overseas users' use is exempted.

The long drawn-out tech war

China and the US are in a race to establish AI supremacy. The two nations have been long embroiled in a tech war, with things getting challenging for Beijing when the US decided to put trade sanctions on America-manufactured computer chips. This basically disallows China to get their hands on high-end chips being developed in the US by the likes of NVIDIA, which are key for advancement in the space of artificial intelligence.

Similar sanctions were followed by Japan and the Netherlands, which, together with the US, account for roughly 90 percent of all the equipment used in computer chip factories worldwide, according to a report by Time

China retaliated by banning purchases of chips from the US-based firm Micron. The country also put export restrictions on gallium and germanium - the two materials key to the semiconductor industry, and of which China is a dominant global supplier.

A Stanford study claims that the majority of the world’s significant language and multimodal models are being produced by the US. However, China continues to lead in total AI journal, conference, and repository publications. 

The US and China had the greatest number of cross-country collaborations in AI publications from 2010 to 2021 but those collaborations have witnessed a downward trend. This is reflective of the corroding geopolitical relations between the two nations.

This has been pretty much how the two countries have been operating for the last decade. One places a restriction, and a corresponding and retaliatory regulation follows. Both want to pioneer the future of global technology. Will there be any winners?

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