Chinese artificial-intelligence (AI) company SenseTime unveiled its answer to ChatGPT on Monday, jumping onto the generative AI bandwagon as mainland Chinese technology companies race to commercialise the so-called large language model.
The company unveiled SenseNova, its latest set of large AI models that cover key capabilities including computer vision, natural language processing and AI-generated content, during a live demonstration at its data centre in Shanghai’s Lingang free-trade zone.
“In China, AI bots will initially develop fast in B2B [business-to-business] territory before business-to-customer [B2C] companies start using them,” said Xu Li, SenseTime’s co-founder and CEO. “We need to improve our technological capabilities and fine-tune services to better commercialise AI.”
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The launch of SenseTime’s AI models follows similar moves by Chinese search-engine giant Baidu and e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, which owns this newspaper, after ChatGPT – an AI chatbot released to the public by Microsoft-backed OpenAI late last year – prompted Chinese technology companies to come up with their own versions. ChatGPT, which was updated with a latest version called GPT-4 last month, has gained widespread attention because of its ability to hold humanlike conversations.
Among the SenseTime models is SenseChat, which has the ability to understand multiple rounds of conversation and very long texts, an experience similar to ChatGPT. Other applications include a service that can generate images based on text inputs in real time, and a product that can model the moves of humans to animate a digital being in a video.
Xu said SenseTime’s potential clients included internet firms such as e-commerce operators and video-game developers.
While ChatGPT is not officially available in China, that has not stopped Chinese technology companies from coming up with or claiming progress in similar products.
In the middle of last month, Baidu released a beta version of Ernie Bot, an AI chatbot powered by the company’s AI-driven deep-learning model, becoming the first major Chinese technology company to reveal a direct competitor to ChatGPT. The chatbot is only available to users with an invitation code, and has so far received mixed reviews from early users.
Alibaba Cloud, Alibaba’s cloud computing unit, last Friday unveiled its AI chatbot, called Tongyi Qianwen. The chatbot has been described as a “productivity assistant and idea generator” that is “dedicated to responding to human commands” through the use of a large language model. The chatbot is open for invite-only beta testing by corporate clients.
SenseTime was founded in 2014 in Hong Kong by a group of computer scientists including CUHK professor Tang Xiao’ou and Xu, an alumni. The company is among the “four little dragons” of China’s AI sector, along with Cloudwalk Technology, Megvii and Yitu.
Allaying concerns about the shortage of high-end chips, Xu said SenseTime had enough graphics processing units to support its SenseNova operations. SenseTime is subject to US sanctions banning American funds from investing in Chinese AI companies. Also, the Biden administration last year imposed restrictions on the sale of AI accelerator chips to Chinese customers.
SenseTime’s shares closed 2.2 per cent higher at HK$3.33 in Hong Kong on Monday.
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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