Staff Reporters
Sep 1, 2023

In a first, China allows public to use generative AI chatbots

One of the first countries to publish rules and regulate the generative AI industry in July, China has granted approvals to several tech firms, including Baidu's 'Ernie Bot' and SenseTime's 'SenseChat' for mass market use.

In a first, China allows public to use generative AI chatbots
Following government approval, five Chinese tech companies, including internet search engine Baidu and AI software company SenseTime Group, released their artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots to the public on Thursday.
Until now, China’s AI-powered chatbots like Baidu’s ‘Ernie Bot’ (its equivalent of ChatGPT) had not been given a public launch and were only made available to a select number of users. 
But as of Thursday, the chatbots are now open to the public. Baidu announced in a statement that the public could now use Ernie Bot. And a SenseTime representative informed Reuters that their chatbot, SenseChat, was also now "fully available to serve all users."
In addition to major tech giants Baidu and SenseTime, three Chinese AI start-ups, including Baichuan Intelligent Technology, Zhipu AI and MiniMax, announced public AI offerings on Thursday.
The battle for AI supremacy has largely been a two-horse race between the United States and China, but when American tech firm OpenAI launched ChatGPT last November, it nudged the US ahead by some margin.
But now China is beginning to play catch up. In contrast to other nations, China demands that companies submit security assessments and obtain authorisation before launching AI products for the general public
However, as AI increasingly becomes a focus of competition with the US, authorities in China have recently increased efforts to support companies developing the technology.
According to Chinese media, the government had given its approval to 11 businesses developing AI, including Tencent Holdings and TikTok owner ByteDance. 
The approvals were widely anticipated following China's publication of a set of temporary regulations intended to control generative AI products for the general public, which became effective on August 15.
Prior to the new rules, companies could only test AI goods on a modest scale in public. However, as a result of the new regulations, companies have expanded the scope of their testing of AI products by adding new features and increasing marketing efforts. Prior government approval is not needed for products targeting businesses.
Speaking to Reuters, Baidu's CEO Robin Li said on Thursday that by making Ernie Bot widely available, Baidu would "collect massive amount of valuable real-world human feedback" to further improve the chatbot.
Baidu also plans on releasing a series of "AI-native apps", the company said.
At present, it is unclear whether other Chinese tech giants such as Alibaba have also received approval as of this week. However, a representative for Alibaba Cloud told Reuters that the firm had finished filings for its AI model, Tongyi Qianwen, and that the model was awaiting its official launch.
In China's competitive digital space, being the first to market is seen as crucial. Following the announcement on Thursday, Baidu's Ernie Bot took the top spot in the free app category on Apple's App Store in China.
The early mover advantage could work to Baidu's strength in enabling them to fine-tune their product faster than competitors. 
China could catch up in five years
But while the public launches of these AI-powered chatbots will no doubt receive domestic support, can China develop tools that will be enough to rival the hugely popular US-produced AI products from the likes of OpenAI and Stable Diffusion? 
"We believe China could catch up in five years with coordinated government support," Tomy Chan, managing director of data, technology and innovation at Publicis Groupe China, previously told Campaign
While it's clear that American AI tools like ChatGPT have had a first-mover advantage, it's worth remembering that being first to market hasn't always led to long-term dominance. 
"Services like TikTok in short videos, and now Temu in social commerce, show that Chinese companies are able to capture large chunks of the global market without being first to market," says Vincent Wong, managing director of
One interesting side note is that even if Chinese companies develop a smarter AI tool, based on current AI training methods, it's likely that the tool's English proficiency will still be better than its Chinese proficiency. 
"That's because these current AI tools are developed using large language models based on text," says Wong. "At least for now, over 50% of the text-based internet is in English, with other languages accounting for less than 10% each."

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