Given how massive text-to-image tools from Stability AI like DALL-E2 and OpenAI’s ChatGPT have become in just months after their launch, there is no doubt that 2023 will be a massive year for AI bots. China, which has been conspicuously missing from AI-related innovations for some time now, will also be stepping up its efforts in the generative AI space. However, how they will be going about it seems a little dubious.
Entrepreneurs, researchers, investors, and the tech community, in general, are looking for ways to carve out a niche for themselves in China’s isolation. As a result, Tech firms are devising tools built on open-source models to attract consumer and enterprise customers. Individuals are cashing in on AI-generated content. Regulators have responded quickly to define how text, image, and video synthesis should be used. However, all this is coming amid US tech sanctions on China, hampering their ability to keep up with AI advancement.
I am creating for China with a local twist.
Chinese tech giants have also showcased a few AI bots to the public, which work with a twist that suits the country’s tastes and political climate. Most Chinese AI startups have based their generative models, especially text-to-image generative AI models, on the same principles and training mechanisms as DALL-E2.
Beyond that, though, Baidu, one of the biggest tech giants in China, has recently been stepping up its game in autonomous driving. Another Chinese tool that has made noise is Tencent’s Different Dimension Me, which can turn photos of people into anime characters. The AI generator exhibits its own bias. Intended for Chinese users, it took off unexpectedly in other anime-loving regions like South America. But users soon realized the platform failed to identify black and plus-size individuals, which are noticeably missing in Japanese anime.
But unlike in the west, China’s effort to develop its own AI universe has government backing. Local Chinese governments are investing in several projects through IDEA, a research lab owned and backed by the Chinese Communist Party.
While no AI generative model is without its inherent bias that crops up because of model training, in China, AI generative bots have their filters. For example, Baidu’s text-to-image model filters out politically sensitive keywords.
While applying filters on generative AI is useful, censorship is a double-edged sword. AI generative models have often been accused of churning sexually explicit and sexist content. Furthermore, users are asked to verify their names before using productive AI apps, just like all other aspects of the internet.
The Chinese regulation also prohibits people from generating and spreading AI-created fake news. How that will be implemented, though, remains to be seen.
The biggest challenge for China’s AI startups and tech firms has to be training their bots in neural networks since they don’t have the tools to do so, thanks to the US government imposing sanctions on China that prevent them from importing high-end AI chips.
As a result, many Chinese AI startups are focused on the application front that doesn’t need high-performance semiconductors that handle seas of data. As for those doing more advanced research, using less powerful chips means computing will take longer and cost more. Such sanctions push China to invest in advanced technologies over the long run.