Renowned computer scientist and venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee on Monday unveiled his new artificial intelligence startup, 01.AI (Lingyi Wanwu in Chinese), providing long-awaited details about his plans to “build an AI 2.0 platform and applications”. In an official announcement shared on theWeChat account of Lee’s VC firm Sinovation Ventures, the Beijing-based company said it had chosen “the most difficult path” of developing its own large language model (LLM).

Why it matters: In the lengthy official post, Lee wrote that he believes AI-powered LLMs present a “historical opportunity” that China cannot miss. Lee hopes the startup will develop a domestically-grown model capable of producing products similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. 

Sinovation Ventures quoted Lee as saying China will see a variety of high-quality and creative applications once the country has truly native, high-quality LLMs, much like the era of mobile internet. 

Details: 01.AI details its model training strategy in seven major modules, including pre-training, post-training, AI infrastructure, and multi-model technology. The firm hopes to equip each module with top-notch technical experts to build an LLM with greater capabilities.

  • Within three months, the company has already achieved model testing of tens of billions of parameters, and is currently in the process of expanding to 30 to 70 billion parameters. Launched in March, rival Baidu’s ERNIE Bot has recorded 260 billion parameters.
  • “Many of the current batch of open-source models in China claim to have similar capabilities to ChatGPT, yet are limited to simple conversations. They tend to struggle with complex tasks,” the startup stated in the WeChat post. Lee emphasized the need to develop homegrown LLMs by extensively incorporating Chinese language data in order to keep competitive in this field.
  • 01.AI was formally founded on May 16, according to corporate database Qichacha, with Ma Jie, former head of Baidu’s metaverse unit, holding a 99% stake, and Sinovation the remaining 1%.

Context: The vast success of OpenAI’s ChatGPT has prompted Chinese tech majors, startups, and research institutions to join the race to create something similar. Data from a state-backed scientific institution shows that China had at least 79 LLMs with parameters exceeding 1 billion as of late May.

Cheyenne Dong is a tech reporter now based in Shanghai. She covers e-commerce and retail, AI, and blockchain. Connect with her via e-mail: cheyenne.dong[a]