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How far is China in the field of artificial intelligence?

How far is China in the field of artificial intelligence?


Status: 10/07/2023 10:23 AM

Chinese technology companies are also positioning themselves for the fast-growing billion-euro business in artificial intelligence. How far are they? And where are your limits so far?

A group of human-sized robots, straight out of a sci-fi movie, dance to traditional Chinese music. This is one of the banners at the World Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AI) last week in Shanghai. It’s a technological revolution, at least that’s what the commercials promise.

The American company OpenAI, which started the AI ​​revolution with its ChatGPT scripting bot, didn’t even get involved. But other big tech companies, especially from the US and China: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Huawei, Baidu, and Tencent. Elon Musk, who was in China recently, was also present at the opening of the conference.

“immature” language models

Zevka Ovcharova, head of the Institute for Information Management in Engineering in Karlsruhe, came from Germany. How far is China from large language models like ChatGPT, where you write a question into a conversation and a machine answers it in a complicated way?

“We’re not very excited about the so-called Chinese variant of ChatGPT. The language models are not advanced, they’re not that mature,” says Ovcharova. “What made a really good impression was the autonomous driving.” Quite a big development has already happened here in China.

In general, she got the impression that there was a lot of talk on the subject. “But I haven’t seen anything really unique, special, or a very typical Chinese product.”

Much computing power is required

Chinese chatbots that work similar to ChatGPT can be seen at the conference: for example from the big Chinese technology companies Baidu and Alibaba. But experts like Cai Hengjin, a Chinese professor of artificial intelligence at Wuhan University, see room for improvement in Chinese companies’ language models over the newest language model to date, GPT 4.0.

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“As far as I know, there are dozens of companies working on large language models in China, but few of them can reach Level 3.5. Not to mention Level 4.0,” said the expert. “The vast majority of models are estimated to be unable to reach this level.”

Cai Hengjin believes that China is in third place after the United States and Great Britain in the development of artificial intelligence. The latter is because Google Deepmind is located in London. Other experts put China in second place, and he says: “The gap is still very large, unless we change our strategy and no longer follow foreign technology.”

The expert is convinced that if Chinese companies succeed in inventing a kind of artificial intelligence that does not require as much computing power as ChatGPT, for example, they can catch up.

Limited access to cloud services?

China is currently affected by international restrictions on computer chips. The United States and other countries such as the Netherlands and Japan have imposed export restrictions on some microchips and machines that can make chips. They want to prevent China from using artificial intelligence in the military.

However, Antonia Hamidi of the Chinese research institute Merex believes that Chinese companies can also find alternatives – without using such powerful chips. You just need more of it, more electricity, and more resources. In addition, companies can rent computing power on the Internet. “It’s expensive, but you can do it,” Hamidi says. But it appears that the US government is preparing to restrict Chinese companies’ access to so-called cloud computing services. This was recently reported by the “Wall Street Journal”.

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However, the United States is not a leader in all areas, says Hamidi. China is better at facial recognition, for example, and proprietary industrial applications — and at social media algorithms. “Of course, from what we know, TikTok’s algorithm is among the best out there.”

The Communist Party wants to stay in control

There is also a discussion about AI – the opportunities, risks and risks – in China. In addition, China – following the example of the European Union recently – has put forward a draft of state regulation: AI must be safe, understandable, and not contribute to social destabilization.

But behind the latter, there is also the Communist Party’s political self-interest in an authoritarian one-party state, says Hamidi. It also relates to the party retaining control that “no information is shared with which the party does not agree”.

The Internet has already succeeded in controlling the People’s Republic through strict censorship. It is also trying to use artificial intelligence. GPT chat by OpenAI is not available in China.