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Kai-Fu Lee Seeks to Bring China Its ChatGPT Moment

Chinese startup 01.AI, which was founded by technology pioneer Kai-Fu Lee, presented its first artificial intelligence app.

Kai-Fu Lee Seeks to Bring China Its ChatGPT Moment

It is worth noting that the mentioned virtual product is one of the steps towards the Asian country strengthening and developing its status as a major player in the AI industry. Currently, China is striving to ensure that advanced technology becomes one of the main driving forces of its large-scale growth, including in the economic dimension.

Based in Beijing 01.AI launches a free digital assistant, the purpose of which is to increase productivity. This virtual product is called Wanzhi. The digital assistant is the latest in a series of developments based on artificial intelligence, designed by a startup.

Wanzhi can speed up the process of creating spreadsheets, virtual documents, and slide presentations. In terms of functional purpose, this digital product is similar to Microsoft’s Office 365 Copilot. Wanzhi focuses mainly on the Chinese market.

The digital assistant can also interpret financial reports, take minutes for meetings, and speed up reading books, such as, for example, the biography of Elon Musk, consisting of 600,000 words. Wanzhi can generate a quick synopsis of huge arrays of text materials. The digital assistant is available for use in Chinese and English.

Kai-Fu Lee, during a conversation with media representatives, said that China needs its own ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence-based chatbot developed by the OpenAI startup and debuted in 2022. According to him, the launch of such a digital product will become a catalyst for investment in the local artificial intelligence industry, accelerate the process of introducing advanced technology in the Asian country, and increase interest in it from the population. Kai-Fu Lee says that for the United States, this landmark moment came 17 months ago. He also said that Chinese users did not have the opportunity to communicate in a chat based on artificial intelligence. According to him, all such digital products developed in an Asian country or other AI tools were not good enough.

Currently, US technology players such as OpenAI, Meta Platforms, and Alphabet are leaders in the artificial intelligence industry. At the same time, Chinese companies of the appropriate functional orientation are making significant efforts to improve their positions in the mentioned sphere of activity. For example, Baidu and ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, are investing heavily in developing their own artificial intelligence models and chatbots based on advanced technology. Moreover, Beijing has provided significant financial and political support for such efforts.

The Chinese leadership prohibits the use of foreign artificial intelligence models in the country. To a large extent, this position of the authorities is due to the regime of state censorship. At the same time, the so-called Great Firewall is a guarantee that local technology companies will dominate the Chinese market without facing global competition. It is worth noting that the Asian country’s market is what can be called a space of huge opportunities in terms of business prospects. To a large extent, this state of affairs is because the population of China, as of the end of 2023 was 1.409 billion people, as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics in January. This kind of statistical circumstance, which is an objective fact, naturally forms the mentioned space of opportunities due to the large-scale consumer base.

Kai-Fu Lee, a 62-year-old native of Taiwan who worked at Apple and Google more than a decade ago, became chief executive of 01.AI last year. The startup has reached a valuation of $1 billion. This means that the company has received the so-called unicorn status. The startup’s path to the corresponding result lasted eight months. The company has developed an artificial intelligence model that has surpassed similar digital products designed in Silicon Valley in several major measures.

Besides Wanzhi, the startup has also launched a bigger, proprietary large language model called Yi-Large. Such models are a kind of technological core of chatbots based on artificial intelligence. Yi-Large is designed for enterprise users. Software developers have access to this model at competitive prices.

Kai-Fu Lee says. that the Yi-Large application programming interface will cost $2.5 for 1 million input tokens and $12 for 1 million output tokens. It is worth noting that about 1 million tokens allow the developer to send approximately 250 queries back and forth. This indicator is significantly lower compared to the similar figure OpenAI GPT-4 Turbo, as noted by Kai-Fu Lee.

As part of a common practice among Chinese technology companies, 01.AI stockplied graphics processing unit semiconductors from Nvidia. The corresponding activity intensified when it became obvious that the United States was determined to ban the export of high-performance chips, such as H100s, necessary for training advanced artificial intelligence services.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, which invested in 01.AI, provided additional supplies of H100s. The startup also stockplied slower and less powerful H800 processors from Nvidia.

Kai-Fu Lee said that AI models developed by 01.AI were trained on microcircuits H100s legally imported into China. According to him, necessity is the mother of inventions. In this context, he also stated that the startup strives to maximize all the possibilities of available computing resources.

Kai-Fu Lee says that 01.AI is approaching profitability. It is worth noting that most global startups in the artificial intelligence industry have not yet achieved such a result. After training AI models to operate with Chinese and universal datasets, Kai-Fu Lee plans to take them and apps to the international level. Moreover, the startup is actively gaining customers in the domestic market and abroad to increase revenue next year.

A separate version of Wanzhi was released for personal computer browsers. This modification of the virtual assistant has more comprehensive features. A smartphone version of the digital product has also been released. This modification of the virtual assistant is available through the WeChat messaging service. Moreover, Wanzhi is used in video tutorials on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, to coach potential users.

Kai-Fu Lee expects 2024 to be an explosive year for apps with generative artificial intelligence in China. He also said that his startup will close the second tranche in a few weeks as part of the preliminary round of Series A for $250 million. By the end of this year, the company will begin to seek investors for the series A. Besides, 01.AI optimized its hardware and software processes to maximize efficiency and cut costs.

Kai-Fu Lee says that at the time of the expected debut of GPT-5, his startup will be one step behind. In this case, it means a new generation artificial intelligence model from OpenAI. At the same time, Kai-Fu Lee noted that his startup aims to make cutting-edge technology affordable, rather than developing massive and expensive models of digital thinking.

As we have reported earlier, SoftBank to Intensify Its Activity in AI Industry.

Serhii Mikhailov

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Serhii’s track record of study and work spans six years at the Faculty of Philology and eight years in the media, during which he has developed a deep understanding of various aspects of the industry and honed his writing skills; his areas of expertise include fintech, payments, cryptocurrency, and financial services, and he is constantly keeping a close eye on the latest developments and innovations in these fields, as he believes that they will have a significant impact on the future direction of the economy as a whole.