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Alibaba begins rollout of its ChatGPT-style tech as China A.I. race heats up

Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing subsidiary of Alibaba, unveiled its ChatGPT-style product Tongyi Qianwen during the 2023 Alibaba Cloud Summit on Tuesday morning.

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Alibaba on Thursday began rolling out its ChatGPT-style technology as Chinese tech giants look to take a lead in the country’s artificial intelligence race.

ChatGPT, developed by U.S. firm OpenAI, is an AI chatbot that can answer questions when prompted by a user. It has gone viral, sparking huge interest in the area of generative AI, the technology which underpins ChatGPT.

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Last month, Alibaba revealed Tongyi Qianwen, its large language model — a system that is trained on huge amounts of data in order to recognize and generate content.

Alibaba’s cloud computing division, which is leading the AI charge for the company, said Thursday that Tongyi Qianwen will be integrated into a digital assistant called Tingwu.

Tongyi Tingwu, the AI-powered assistant, will be able to analyze multimedia content and generate a text summary from video and audio files, according to Alibaba.

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Tongyi Tingwu, which is now available for public testing, will be integrated first into DingTalk, a business-focused messaging service run by Alibaba.

“We live at a time when a growing amount of video and audio content is being consumed in various formats every day. In line with this, Tongyi Tingwu aims to use the large language model to facilitate faster and better comprehension and easier sharing of multimedia content,” Jingren Zhou, CTO of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, said in a press release.

Alibaba said it will release further features for Tongyi Tingwu later this year including real-time translation between English and Chinese for multimedia content. The service will be a plugin for Google’s Chrome web browser.

An Alibaba spokesperson told CNBC that the company will work with corporate cloud customers to build tailored AI products based on the Tongyi Qianwen large language model.

The rollout of Alibaba’s latest offering comes at a time when Chinese technology giants are talking up their AI capabilities as a way to spur growth for their businesses which have been hurt by a slowing domestic economy and stricter regulation from Beijing.

In March, Chinese search giant Baidu unveiled its ChatGPT competitor called Ernie Bot, but the company is waiting for regulatory approval for its release. Baidu also plans to roll out the technology across its products.

In China, domestic tech giants are treading carefully with AI developments given Beijing’s tight internet controls and regulation around such technology. ChatGPT itself is blocked by China’s internet censorship system.

The country’s tech firms, including Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu are keen to stay on the right side of regulators and have not launched a wide-scale public rival to ChatGPT, instead choosing to focus their AI technology on specific areas.

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