AI race: Chinese giant Alibaba enters the fray with its bilingual AI model

The AI race has just gone global.
Ameya Paleja
Alibaba logo on a building in Shanghai
Alibaba logo on a building in Shanghai

Robert Way/iStock 

Chinese e-commerce and technology giant, Alibaba, unveiled its generative artificial intelligence (AI) model Tongyi Qianwen, a ChatGPT-like service, earlier today. The service can work in English and Chinese and will be rolled out across Alibaba products, ranging from Slack-like communication apps to smart home speakers.

Interest in the area of large language models has increased in the recent past after ChatGPT took the world by storm. While experts are still debating on how these tools need to be tested extensively and guidelines for their rollout need to be determined, technology companies do not want to waste a moment and, in some cases, have also rolled out updates to their launched products.

The AI race has gone global

For the past few months, the competition in this sector mainly appeared to be a two-horse race between Microsoft-backed OpenAI and Google's Bard AI. After the latter faced some hiccups, Microsoft indeed took the lead. It had steadily incorporated OpenAI's technology into all its products, ranging from the Office Suite to the barely used search engine Bing.

AI race: Chinese giant Alibaba enters the fray with its bilingual AI model
AI Companies will now compete globally for customers

Chinese search giant, Baidu, launched its Ernie bot last month, but much like its U.S. counterpart, Google, it failed to make a significant impact. With Alibaba's announcement, though, the stage has suddenly shifted, and OpenAI's strong lead is now at risk.

U.S.-led businesses trained their AI models in English as it is used globally. However, Alibaba's AI model, Tongyi Qianwen, can provide services in English and Chinese.

From CEO Daniel Zhang's earlier statements, one can gauge that the model still lags OpenAI since it still needs to be trained on image recognition and text-to-image generation. Nevertheless, the company is preparing to roll out the model to clients in China and abroad, where it expects to be more cost-effective than the competition.

The company began accepting trial requests for the model last Friday and now allows its enterprise Cloud customers to access it for beta testing. The service will be integrated into DingTalk, Alibaba's Slack-like app used for workplace communication and collaboration, while also being incorporated into Tmall Genie, its smart home speaker.

Calling this a "technological watershed moment" driven by generative AI and cloud computing, Zhang said businesses had started to " embrace intelligence transformation to stay ahead of the game".

As a provider of cloud computing and AI services now, Alibaba expects to see exponential growth in demand in the near future.

This report contained information that appeared in the South China Morning Post, Bloomberg, and CNBC.

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