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Microsoft president warns China becoming close rival of ChatGPT

Chinese research organizations and companies will emerge as major rivals of ChatGPT, warns Microsoft President Brad Smith, whose company is the biggest investor in OpenAI, the developer of the AI-powered chatbot.

As competition heats up among U.S. technology giants such as Amazon and Google in the development of generative AI, Smith said China will not be far behind.

“We see three at the absolute forefront,” Smith said in an interview in Tokyo with Nikkei Asia. One is Open AI with Microsoft, the second is Google, and “the third is the Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence.”

“Who’s ahead and who’s behind can change a bit from one part of the year to another, but one thing has been absolutely constant: the gap is almost always measured in months, not years,” Smith said, calling the race to innovate “enormously competitive.”

Generative AI, the technology behind ChatGPT, is capable of producing text and images at near-human levels of sophistication. The technology has excited the world with its potential in fields from business and the arts to education and health care, but it has also sparked fears that it could displace workers by automating many jobs. Other concerns include its potential for spreading misinformation, infringing on copyrights, compromising privacy and leaking sensitive information.

Smith argues that the solution to such concerns is not to stop innovation but rather to use and improve on existing products.

Like other technologies, AI can be a tool as well as a weapon, he said, citing cyber attacks as an example.

“We should absolutely assume, and even expect, that certain nation states will use AI to launch cyber attacks, even stronger cyber attacks and cyber influence operations than we see today,” he warned.

“What we have fundamentally found is that technology innovation, when pursued well, can actually lead to stronger defense at the expense of strong offense. That’s the real lesson from the war in Ukraine,” he said, pointing to American tech companies like Microsoft that have helped Ukraine defend against Russian cyber attacks throughout the year-long war.

“Already, we are using AI to identify new attacks in real time, and intercept them,” he said. “We can move faster than even a human can go. … We are using AI to detect cyber influence operations of foreign governments and disinformation campaigns,” he said.

But “if we can continue to combine the best minds of people with the best technology, that is an area where we should be able to outperform the adversaries of the world’s democracies,” he said.

Smith is in Japan as the country hosts the Group of Seven industrial nations. The government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said Japan will lead discussions about rules surrounding AI.

Earlier this month, Kishida received a visit from Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, to talk about ways to protect user privacy and safety.

On the business front, Japan is already tapping ChatGPT. The country’s three biggest banks are using it to lighten workloads, such as responding to internal queries and reducing paperwork. Insurers such as Tokio Marine are developing an AI system based on the ChatGPT platform to write draft answers for queries from policyholders and insurance agents.

Smith said that the technology can address one of the biggest challenges facing Asia: labor shortages.

“The working age population has to support more people who have retired and are dependent on the economic growth of people who are working. We desperately need to find new sources of productivity growth,” he said. “There is no other way to grow GDP.”

Asia’s tech suppliers also stand to benefit from the emergence of generative AI and new applications, as chips are “of critical importance for this technology,” he said.

“All of this new technology is going to require even more computational power. There are huge opportunities for companies to keep innovating and keep succeeding.” Nikkei Asia

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