The US-China decoupling is resulting in a divided technology landscape between the two major economies, shaping the development of the hot field of generative AI, which transforms text into various forms of content like prose, images and videos.
China, in order to reduce its dependence on the American technological base, has pursued its own large language models which correspond to the GPT models of OpenAI. But unlike the United States, some of its most advanced AI initiatives are taking place on established internet behemoths, such as Baidu.
The search engine and self-driving giant rolled out its ChatGPT counterpart in March. Now the 23-year-old also wants to have a stake in other AI startups. The company aims to have a stake in other AI startups. At a JPMorgan summit in China this week, Baidu co-founder and CEO Robin Li announced the launch of a 1 billion yuan ($145 million) fund to support AI companies generative.
The fund can be compared to the OpenAI seed fund, which started at $100 million and eventually grew to $175 million, as noted by my colleague Connie. The fund will invest up to 10 million yuan, or about $1.4 million, in a project. Given the size of the check, the fund is clearly targeting early-stage AI applications, which is unsurprising given that Chinese generative AI startups have not seen widespread adoption and most investments are concentrated in the seed and start-up stages.
Additionally, Baidu intends to use the fund to expand adoption of its own Ernie Bot big language model. “American developers are creating new applications based on ChatGPT or other language models. In China, there will be an increasing number of developers who will create AI applications using Ernie as a base,” Li said.
In this sense, the fund seems to appeal to applications of AI rather than developers of its fundamental layer. The fund will not lack pitches. Over the years, Chinese startups have been recognized for their ingenuity in devising new business models, ranging from live streaming, live commerce to short videos. Li predicted that in the era of generative AI, Chinese companies will once again lead the way by discovering commercial applications for AI.
“I am very optimistic about the development of AI in China. Over the past few decades, China has warmly embraced new technologies. Although we didn’t invent Android, iOS or Windows, we have developed a host of highly innovative apps like WeChat, Douyin and Didi. Many of them are popular and useful. The same trend is playing out in the age of AI. Technology opens up a myriad of possibilities and we are good at seizing them to create applications. »
However, a relevant question is whether the fundamental level – the large Chinese language models – will be robust enough to support the range of real-world scenarios expected of them. China wants its local LLMs so it is not subject to US sanctions that cut off key technology supply, as seen in the semiconductor industry. Besides Baidu, Chinese tech giants like Alibaba and Tencent are also developing their own big language models.