Tech giant Alibaba unveiled its Tongyi Qianwen AI chatbot on April 7, joining the rush of Chinese tech majors to bring out a home-grown large-scale model to compete with ChatGPT. The service, launched without any advance notice, is currently only available to corporate clients and a limited number of media outlets on an invite-only basis.
The chat application is described on its official website as “an efficiency assistant and idea-generator.” The site offers little in the way of specific details about Alibaba’s new product, simply asking visitors for a phone number and email address by which to request an invitation code.
Why it matters: Alibaba is the second major Chinese tech company to use a self-developed large-scale model to unveil a chat application following the launch last month of Baidu’s ERNIE Bot. It is expected that other local tech heavyweights, including SenseTime, Huawei, and JD, will soon introduce their own alternatives to ChatGPT.
- Tongyi Qianwen has been developed by Alibaba’s research institute DAMO Academy, part of its newly-independent cloud computing arm. The company didn’t specify how many parameters the model is trained on. In 2021, Alibaba released the multi-modal M6 model and claimed it was the first AI model in China to break 10 trillion parameters (ChatGPT has 175 billion parameters).
Details: As with rivals ChatGPT and ERNIE Bot, Tongyi Qianwen can generate articles and poems in response to user prompts. It can also write outlines, find complimentary expressions, offer recipes, and write in various styles and tones. A number of Chinese media outlets have tested the bot and compared its performance with Baidu’s ERNIE Bot and ChatGPT.
- Tongyi shows a different mode of thinking to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. When asked by media outlet DoNews how to cover the latest advances in the AI industry as a tech reporter, Tongyi Qianwen’s responses are more specific, suggesting reports on important events in the field and interviews with experts and entrepreneurs. In contrast, ChatGPT emphasizes learning and updating relevant knowledge rather than in-depth answers.
- Tongyi Qianwen and ERNIE Bot perform better than ChatGPT at answering complicated questions in Chinese. The former has the ability to have multiple rounds of conversation on certain common sense questions and is able to provide sources for its responses, according to a report by local media outlet QbitAI. By comparison, Baidu’s bot can sometimes offer confusing answers, the report noted. There are slight differences in the three tools’ responses to questions in Chinese.
- Both ERNIE and Tongyi Qianwen performed worse in programming compared to ChatGPT. In a test input by tech media outlet Chaping, where the request was to write code to create a button that changes color with each click, Alibaba and Baidu’s chatbot services failed to write the full code, while ChatGPT successfully created the feature.
- Tongyi Qianwen currently doesn’t support multi-modal generation, while Baidu’s chatbot ERNIE Bot has audio, image, and video creation capabilities.
Context: Major Chinese tech companies and entrepreneurs are joining the AI chatbot race after search giant Baidu’s high-profile release of ERNIE Bot last month.
- Artificial intelligence start-up SenseTime has unveiled a new range of AI products called SenseChat today, according to local media outlet IThome.
- Chinese e-commerce giant JD will launch an industrial version of ChatGPT named ChatJD this year, with a focus on retail and finance applications, the company’s vice president He Xiaodong said at a recent summit in Hangzhou.
- Alibaba announced a split into six independent groups in late March, including its cloud division, which now has the autonomy to raise funds and seek an IPO. The cloud computing unit is directly overseen by Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Tongyi Qianwen as the first AI model with 10 trillion parameters, it was Alibaba’s M6 model, first released in 2021.