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Former head of Google China joins ChatGPT frenzy

Lee Kai-fu, a prominent Chinese venture capitalist and former president of Google China, is the latest high-profile tech executive to jump on the ChatGPT bandwagon, with plans to establish an artificial intelligence (AI) company that goes beyond “a Chinese version of ChatGPT”.

Lee, 61, chairman of China-based early-stage investment fund Sinovation Ventures, said the company, called Project AI 2.0, aims to become a global tech firm that “builds AI 2.0 platforms and productivity applications”.

He emphasised that the company was “not only a Chinese version of ChatGPT”, referring to the AI chatbot developed by Microsoft-backed OpenAI, which has now been upgraded to the more powerful ChatGPT-4 version.

Lee made the announcement on Sunday on his WeChat social media account, which is widely read in China.

In his post, Lee said AI 2.0 was “not just a high-performance chatting tool”, nor was it limited to AI-generated graphics and texts. The applications that are available today, including Co-pilot, Microsoft’s newly-launched feature that integrates AI into its Office products, are “just the beginning of AI 2.0 capabilities”, according to Lee.

The announcement follows the entry of Chinese search engine giant Baidu into the market with its ChatGPT-like service called Ernie Bot. Baidu’s stock price tumbled 6.4 per cent in Hong Kong after a lacklustre debut last Thursday, but has since surged 13.7 per cent after it received recognition from reviewers and investment bankers on Friday.

Robin Li Yanhong, Baidu’s founder and CEO, told at the Yabuli China Entrepreneurs Forum in northeast Heilongjiang province on Friday that the feedback was “pretty much expected”, according to the National Business Daily.

“When ChatGPT was first launched, the feedback was even worse than Ernie Bot,” Li said, adding that he was keen to release the product as it was a typical AI model that requires constant improvement through feedback.

Project AI 2.0 will be the seventh company venture-built by Sinovation Ventures. The venture capital firm, which is currently managing 2 billion yuan (US$290 million) in dual currency investment funds, was founded by Lee in 2009 and began to invest in the AI sector in 2012.

Although Lee did not disclose details of the new company’s business scope, he said funding and computing power for Project AI 2.0 has been “gradually secured”, and he is now hoping to attract talent from all over the world.

During an internal seminar at Sinovation Ventures last week, Lee noted that with the breakthrough in deep learning, AI has moved from version 1.0 to 2.0, which would lead to a “platform-based transformation” that could redefine how users access and interact with interfaces.

He added that AI 2.0 is expected to be “the most significant enabling technology to boost social productivity in the 21st century”, while certain issues, such as monopolistic practices by Big Tech companies and the spreading of false information, need to be addressed.

Since February, a number of China’s big tech companies, including Post-owner Alibaba Group Holding, Tencent Holding, iFlyTek and NetEase, have rushed to announce that they are working on AI products similar to ChatGPT. Earlier this month, Wang Xing, the CEO of food delivery giant Meituan, said he joined a Series A investment round for an AI start-up launched by Wang Huiwen, one of his closest aides and a co-founder at Meituan. South China Mornig Post

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