Inside the ChatGPT race in China

Most people who have experienced ChatGPT firsthand in China have accessed it through VPNs or paid alternatives—for example, smart entrepreneurs have basically rented OpenAI accounts or asked questions. ChatGPT on behalf of the buyer, for a few dollars per 20 questions. But even more people are seeing the results through screenshots and short social videos showing ChatGPT replies, both of which have swept Chinese social media this week.

In addition to the allure of its new and hard-to-reach feature, it may have become so popular because ChatGPT’s ability to answer questions in Chinese has exceeded many people’s expectations. (including me!). GPT-3—an earlier model of this technology from OpenAI, released in 2020 and also unavailable in China—doesn’t work very well with Chinese content. And while some Chinese companies have developed localized chatbot alternatives to GPT-3, they are often derided by users as predictable, repetitive, and unfounded.

Compared to them, ChatGPT is surprisingly good at forming natural, albeit somewhat formal, responses that seem traditional. And Popular culture references in China. It can imitate writing style by Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of Global Times, China’s main propaganda mouthpiece; It know meme song in Chinese and can create similar lyrics from scratch; and it can write in the emoji-filled style of influencer posts from Chinese social media platform Xiaohongshu.

Like in English, the accuracy of ChatGPT answers in Chinese is often incorrect on closer inspection and it contains actual errors. But the fact that a chatbot developed by an American company shows so much understanding of contemporary China still impresses the public. For one, I was astounded to read many ChatGPT replies: Wow, it sure does a better Hu Xijin impersonation than I do!

So it’s no surprise that Chinese tech companies now want to get in on the action. Baidu, the search and AI company arguably best positioned to introduce a ChatGPT alternative, will complete its “Ernie Bot” testing in March and include it in most hardware and software products. mine; The research department of Alibaba’s DAMO Academy is experiment a similar tool internally; And 360, a search and cybersecurity company, said it will release a demo “ASAP”. Other tech companies like NetEase, iFlytek and also want to use their own AI chatbot in specific scenarios, like education, e-commerce, and fintech.

Current action is driven by a combination of excitement and FOMO. On the one hand, few technology products capture as much public attention as ChatGPT—which has given Chinese companies the rare confidence that the public can still be extremely excited and hopeful. about a new technology. On the other hand, there is clearly pressure on these companies not to miss out on this big trend, or at least to look as if they didn’t.

That’s probably also why we’re seeing a bit of… let’s say… irrational corporate behavior. The Chinese stock market has basically gone crazy looking for any Chinese company whose business shows even suggest related to AI or chatbots; for example, Secoo, a failing luxury e-commerce company with little background in AI, announced on February 6 that it will explore the use of ChatGPT-like technology in its service. ; Its share price jumped 124.4 percent that day. Meanwhile, Wang Huiwen, co-founder of Chinese delivery giant Meituan, posted on social media that he is investing $50 million to start a company like ChatGPT; in the time since, he has earned another $230 million in VC funding, despite the fact that he admitted himself don’t understand AI technology and still learning.

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