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Ant Group and JD join China’s AI race

Financial technology giant Ant Group said it is developing technology related to large language models (LLMs), while e-commerce conglomerate said it will launch its own model next month, as Chinese Big Tech companies race to stake out market share amid explosive interest around generative artificial intelligence (AI).

An Ant spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that the Hangzhou-based company’s in-house research team is working on an LLM project named “Zhen Yi”, without further elaborating. The news was first reported by Chinese media.

Meanwhile Beijing-based JD announced it will unveil its LLM during its annual cloud summit taking place on July 13. JD vice-president He Xiaodong said in April that the company’s upcoming ChatGPT rival, potentially called “ChatJD”, will focus on business applications, according to local media reports.

Ant and JD join a host of Chinese companies that have jumped on the LLM bandwagon after US start-up OpenAI’s ChatGPT set off a global market frenzy around similar technology.

China’s largest search engine operator Baidu introduced its Ernie Bot in March. Alibaba Group Holding’s cloud computing unit in April launched its Tongyi Qianwen chatbot, which is being integrated into the company’s various products, including work collaboration app DingTalk. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

TikTok owner ByteDance confirmed earlier this month it is testing an LLM-powered chatbot that is currently available to a select group of employees on Feishu, the company’s enterprise collaboration platform known overseas as Lark.

Other firms, such as AI developer SenseTime and voice recognition specialist iFlyTek, have also joined the fray.

China is home to at least 79 large AI models with more than 1 billion parameters, most of them focusing on language and visual recognition, according to a recent report published by the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China, a government research agency.

Ant, which remains a private company after the suspension of its initial public offering in 2020, invested 20.46 billion yuan (US$2.89 billion) in research and development in 2022, according to the company’s sustainability report. The investments were primarily allocated to innovations in areas that included AI.

Nasdaq and Hong Kong-listed JD spent 16.9 billion yuan in R&D last year, compared with 16.3 billion yuan in 2021, according to the company’s financial reports. South China Morning Post

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