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5 things to know about Alibaba Tongyi Qianwen, the Chinese AI to rival ChatGPT

Picture Credit: Alibaba

With ChatGPT unveiled in November, the tech industry has been working tirelessly to come up with their own version of “generative” artificial intelligence (AI). Google, Elon Musk, Meta, everyone is working on the Open AI tool killer.  

Now Alibaba, one of the largest e-commerce and cloud computing companies in the world, has recently unveiled its own generative artificial intelligence (AI) model, named Tongyi Qianwen. The model is similar to ChatGPT, the popular AI platform developed by OpenAI that can generate natural language texts based on user inputs. Alibaba plans to integrate Tongyi Qianwen into all its business applications soon, starting with its smart speaker Tmall Genie and its workplace messaging platform DingTalk.

What is Tongyi Qianwen?

Tongyi Qianwen is the name of the artificial intelligence (AI) model that powers Alibaba’s new chatbot service, which aims to provide natural and engaging conversations for users across various platforms. Tongyi Qianwen, which means “seeking truth by asking a thousand questions” in Chinese, is a large language model that was trained on massive amounts of data from different domains and languages. It can generate coherent and relevant responses to user queries, as well as create original content such as stories, slogans, and summaries.

Tongyi Qianwen was unveiled by Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang at the 2023 Alibaba Cloud Summit in Beijing, where he demonstrated how the chatbot can be integrated into Alibaba’s products such as Tmall Genie, a smart speaker, and DingTalk, a workplace communication app. Zhang said that Tongyi Qianwen will eventually be deployed across all Alibaba applications, from e-commerce to mapping services, to improve user experience and business efficiency.

” Tongyi Qianwen will bring about big changes to the way we produce, the way we work, and the way we live our lives”. Alibaba chief executive Daniel Zhang

Who is behind Tongyi Qianwen’s development?

Tongyi Qianwen is not only a product of Alibaba, but also a product of its creator, who has been fascinated by AI since his early life. Tongyi Qianwen is the brainchild of Li Wei, a senior researcher at Alibaba Cloud Intelligence and the leader of the chatbot project. Li was born in 1995 in Shenzhen, China, and showed a keen interest in computer science and mathematics since he was a child. He participated in various national and international competitions and won several awards for his outstanding performance.

Li pursued his undergraduate and master’s degrees in computer science at Tsinghua University, where he focused on natural language processing (NLP), a branch of AI that deals with human language. He joined Alibaba Cloud Intelligence in 2019 as a researcher and soon became the head of the chatbot team. Li said that his vision is to make chatbots more human-like and intelligent, and to enable them to understand and interact with users in natural ways.

Li and his team developed Tongyi Qianwen based on the latest advances in NLP and generative AI, which are technologies that can produce novel and realistic outputs from given inputs. They used Alibaba’s massive cloud computing resources and data sources to train Tongyi Qianwen on billions of words and sentences from various domains and languages, such as news, literature, social media, e-commerce, finance, education, and entertainment. They also applied techniques such as self-attention, transformer networks, and pre-training to enhance Tongyi Qianwen’s ability to capture the context and meaning of user queries and generate appropriate responses.

What can Tongyi Qianwen do?

Tongyi Qianwen is not only a chatbot that can answer questions, but also a content creator that can generate original texts. For example, it can write stories for children based on their preferences and interests; it can craft business pitches for entrepreneurs based on their products and markets; it can summarize news articles or books for readers who want to save time; it can even come up with catchy slogans or jokes for advertisers or entertainers who want to attract attention.

Tongyi Qianwen is also a multilingual chatbot that can communicate with users in both Chinese and English. It can switch between languages seamlessly according to user preferences or needs. It can also translate texts from one language to another with high accuracy and fluency. Moreover, it can adapt to different scenarios and domains by adjusting its tone, style, and vocabulary accordingly. For example, it can be professional when talking to business clients or casual when talking to friends.

Tongyi Qianwen is also a valuable contribution to the development of the global AI community. Alibaba said that it will make Tongyi Qianwen available to its cloud customers who want to build their own customized large language models for their specific applications. It will also share its research findings and best practices with other researchers and developers who are interested in advancing the field of NLP and generative AI.

Tongyi Qianwen is based on Tongyi, Alibaba’s proprietary pre-trained model framework that combines various AI models. Alibaba claims that Tongyi Qianwen can achieve better performance than ChatGPT on several natural language understanding and generation benchmarks. The company also says that Tongyi Qianwen can manage multiple languages, including Chinese, English, Japanese, and Korean.

How will Alibaba use Tongyi Qianwen?

Alibaba intends to use Tongyi Qianwen to enhance its existing products and services, as well as to create new ones. The company demonstrated how Tongyi Qianwen can be embedded in its Tmall Genie smart speakers and DingTalk workplace messaging platform. For example, Tmall Genie users can ask Tongyi Qianwen to tell them stories or jokes, while DingTalk users can ask Tongyi Qianwen to summarize meeting minutes or generate sales proposals.

Alibaba also plans to make Tongyi Qianwen available to its cloud computing clients, so they can build their own customized large language models for their specific needs. Alibaba’s cloud division is the largest in China and the fourth largest in the world. By offering Tongyi Qianwen as a service, Alibaba hopes to attract more customers and gain an edge over its competitors.

What are the implications?

Tongyi Qianwen is the latest entry in the AI arms race between China and the US. ChatGPT has sparked a lot of interest and innovation in the field of natural language processing (NLP), as well as concerns about its potential misuse and ethical implications. Several tech giants, such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Baidu, have launched or announced their own versions of ChatGPT-style services.

China has been investing heavily in AI research and development, aiming to become a global leader in the technology by 2030. The country has also been setting rules and regulations to govern the operation of generative AI services. In draft guidelines issued on Tuesday 4th April 2023, China’s cyberspace regulator said that generative AI services would be required to undergo security reviews before they can operate.

Tongyi Qianwen represents Alibaba’s ambition and capability in the field of AI. The company has been developing various AI applications for its e-commerce, cloud computing, logistics, entertainment, and social media platforms. With Tongyi Qianwen, Alibaba hopes to create more value for its customers and partners, as well as to explore new possibilities for human-machine interaction.

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