Alibaba, one of the world’s leading tech companies and e-commerce experts, has thrown its hat into the AI ring with a ChatGPT-style offering of its own, known as Tongyi Qianwen.
Although it did not provide an exact timeline, the company announced at the 2023 Alibaba Cloud Summit the technology would be coming to every Alibaba product in the “near future”.
There has been no comment either way on whether the technology will come to the U.S. but it has been confirmed to work in both Chinese and English. The AI will debut on Alibaba’s own DingTalk internal communication software. Alibaba’s own example use cases included the ability to take notes in meetings, compose emails and write business proposals. Tongyi Qianwen is also available on Tmall Genie, an Alexa-style AI smart speaker where it provides "more dynamic and vivid conversations with users. For instance, it can develop tell stories to children, provide healthy diet recipes, offer travel tips, and recommend background music for a workout.
OpenAI offers companies the ability to create their own AI-powered plugins and has been offering its own ChatGPT API for a while now and Alibaba looks to be offering a similarly bespoke service with its own API in Beta testing now.
Using Tongyi Qianwen, Alibaba wants to empower its clients to create their own custom Large Language Models (LLMs): “We hope to facilitate businesses from all industries with their intelligence transformation and, ultimately, help boost their business productivity, expand their expertise and capabilities while unlocking more exciting opportunities through innovations” said Jingren Zhou, CTO of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence.
The Tongyi Qianwen is based on Alibaba's own Tongyi model which is itself an amalgamation of numerous other AI models. Multimodal capabilities such as the ability to generate images and videos have been promised to be added soon.
China’s answers to ChatGPT
Alibaba is not the only Chinese firm working on AI technology to compete with the New Bing and Google Bard. As ChatGPT is officially banned in China, there are other home-grown alternatives in the works too.
Baidu’s own Ernie Bot (nothing to do with Sesame Street) was the first to be revealed and it offers a service similar to ChatGPT as well as image generation (although it cannot match the results of the best AI image generators). Without a well-known search engine like Google or Bing on board however, the impact of these Chinese AI models in the West is limited.
Interestingly, Chinese gaming company NetEase has announced it will be including its own AI technology in its next game. The title, mobile MMO Justice Online Mobile, will use AI features to create text and audio in-game. This is something that gamers should keep an eye out for.