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February 27, 2023updated 17 Mar 2023 8:31am

Tencent to ‘develop ChatGPT clone’ HunyuanAide

Chinese officials have called for home-grown AI tools to be integrated into the economy. The country's tech giants are making plans.

By Ryan Morrison

Chinese technology giant Tencent has created a new team to develop a product similar to the hugely popular OpenAI chatbot ChatGPT. The artificial intelligence tool is expected to be called HunyuanAide and built on large language model Hunyuan.

Few details have been revealed but the Tencent chatbot will be called HunyuanAid and based on its secretive large language model (Photo: Sergei Elagin/Shutterstock)
Few details have been revealed but the Tencent chatbot will be called HunyuanAid and based on its secretive large language model. (Photo by Sergei Elagin/Shutterstock)

Unnamed insiders speaking to Reuters revealed the secret plans, which have yet to be confirmed by Tencent. The company has been widely tipped to develop its own AI chatbot after rivals Baidu and Alibaba confirmed plans for their own systems. Tencent says it is conducting research into ChatGPT-like technology but hasn’t revealed any more details about the product, how it will be made available, or the size of the model used to power it.

Tencent’s AI model is particularly good at understanding the Chinese language and does so better than humans. That is based on a recent benchmarking exercise, and such abilities will be essential in the creation of a natural language chatbot for use in the Chinese market.

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot that can generate natural language responses based on user input. Powered by large language models that learn from analysing large amounts of publicly available text during its training period, it can output a wide and varied content set.

It can be used to write articles, poems, movie scripts or summarise pieces of text. The tool has also been used to write reports and plans for enterprise, malware and code. ChatGPT isn’t available in China but despite it being officially blocked, users have been actively trying to gain access.

Since its launch at the end of November 2022, ChatGPT has become one of the fastest-growing consumer products of all time with 100 million active monthly users in January alone.

This has prompted some of the largest technology companies in the world to pivot and launch new similar products. Microsoft has launched Bing Search, which is based on the technology behind OpenAI’s ChatGPT, and Google is developing Bard a search chatbot based on its powerful LaMDA large language model.

China reacts to US AI US competition

Chinese internet and technology company Baidu announced it would launch a search chatbot within the first quarter of 2023 called Ernie, built on its massive language model Ernie 3.0 which has 260 billion parameters,  This is significantly more than the 175bn behind GPT-3 from OpenAI and 137 billion in the Google LaMDA model used to power Bard.

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Speaking to Tech Monitor last month, venture capitalist and creator of Tech Buzz China, Rui Ma, said there was discussion in the country over finding the best opportunity and right opportunity for chatbot-like technology. It has the potential to transform search, copywriting and even automate white-collar roles at a large scale which could solve some of China’s ageing population challenges, she explained.

It appears that Chinese companies were left scrambling to develop a chatbot-type solution, despite being perceptively “far ahead” when it comes to large language models and AI generally.

“It wasn’t that China doesn’t have the brainpower, or even necessarily a fundamental understanding of the models, because they’re mainly based on research from a few years ago,” said Ma. “It was more like, even if you had the brainpower, if you didn’t have the vision to go in this direction and actually create this, then you wouldn’t have made it.”

China’s artificial intelligence sector is “well placed” to catch up with the US when it comes to chatbots and natural language tools. It has already done the same with foundation AI models when Bauidu launched Ernie a year after Google published Bert in 2018.

Chinese government and wider impact

Chinese government officials are also said to be supportive of ChatGPT-like technology, with ministers pushing for it to be integrated into Chinese society. Chen Jiachang, head of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology told reporters last week that it “has the potential to be applied in many industries and fields”.

The push for a home-grown solution comes as Chinese regulators warn internet companies against offering access to ChatGPT itself, describing it as a tool for spreading American government misinformation.

Meanwhile, campaigners and academics in the UK have called on the government to get behind a project for the UK to build its own large language model that could power tools like ChatGPT and reduce the reliance on models owned by US corporations.

Sanjeev Kumar, VP EMEA at Boost.ai told Tech Monitor there has been a groundswell of interest and enthusiasm for AI-powered chat and voicebots in the past few weeks as ChatGPT raised the profile for the technology and put it in front of millions of people. “Now, we’re seeing big-name tech players mobilise to build their own offerings, as the public imagination remains captured by the ergonomic interface that conversational and generative AI offers,” he said.

The race will now begin for the Chinese tech giants to become the go-to for generative AI solutions for Chinese users and Tencent is well placed to fill the voice, with the scope for its adoption of any conversational AI platform huge, especially given its ownership of WeChat as the audience is already in place to utilise an AI chatbot.

“However, you don’t have to be a multi-billion-pound company to transform your customer experience with conversational AI,” Kumar added. “Now is the time for businesses of all shapes and sizes to seize the initiative and place conversational AI at the heart of their customer service offerings as well, as customers become more familiarised with chatbots and voicebots, and expectations increase for a better customer experience.”

Read more: This is how GPT-4 will be regulated

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