Alibaba to roll out generative AI across apps, Beijing flags new rules

Reuters | April 11, 2023

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By Josh Horwitz and Josh Ye

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Alibaba Group Holding Ltd on Tuesday showed off its generative AI model – its version of the tech that powers chatbot sensation ChatGPT – and said it would be integrated into all of the company’s apps in the near future.

The unveiling, which came on the heels of the launch of a slew of new AI products by SenseTime this week, was swiftly followed by the government’s publication of draft rules outlining how generative AI services should be managed.

In a filmed demonstration, the AI large language model, named Tongyi Qianwen which means “truth from a thousand questions”, drafted invitation letters, planned trip itineraries and advised shoppers on types of makeup to purchase.

Tongyi Qianwen will initially be integrated into DingTalk, Alibaba’s workplace messaging app and can be used to summarise meeting notes, write emails and draft business proposals. It will also be added to Tmall Genie, Alibaba’s voice assistant. 

The technology “will bring about big changes to the way we produce, the way we work and the way we live our lives,” CEO Daniel Zhang told the livestreamed event.

AI models like Tongyi Qianwen are “the big picture for making AI more popular in the future,” he added.

The Chinese internet giant’s cloud unit plans to open up Tongyi Qianwen to clients so they can build their own customized large language models and began registrations on Friday.

The draft rules published by the Cyberspace Administration of China said the country supported the technology’s innovation and popularisation but content generated had to adhere to “core socialist values” as well as to laws on data security and personal information protection.

Those who fall foul of the rules could face fines or criminal investigation, it added.

The proposed rules, open for public comment until May 10, come as governments around the world are looking at how best to regulate generative AI technology, which has sparked much concern about its ethical implications as well as its impact on national security, jobs and education.

Italy last month temporarily banned ChatGPT – the chatbot sensation developed by Microsoft-backed OpenAI that has sparked the run of companies developing similar products.

Elon Musk and a group of artificial intelligence experts and industry executives have also called for a six-month pause in developing systems more powerful than OpenAI’s newly launched GPT-4, in an open letter citing potential risks to society.

Charlie Chai, an analyst from 86Research, said Beijing’s new rules would potentially slow down progress “in exchange for a more orderly and socially responsible deployment of the technology.”

They would also set up obstacles for foreign companies looking to provide AI services in the country, benefiting domestic companies, he added.

China has for years tightly censored its internet and its tech giants are careful to toe the line, especially on topics considered sensitive such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

Search engine Baidu’s Ernie chatbot – one of several AI models or chatbots revealed or teased by Chinese companies – declined to answer questions on such topics or asked to change the subject when quizzed by Reuters last month. The bot remains open only to trial users at the moment.

Shares in Alibaba rose 1% in Hong Kong trade. Shares in SenseTime, whose new products include an AI chatbot called SenseChat, initially surged but were later flat.

(Reporting by Josh Horwitz in Shanghai and Josh Ye in Hong Kong; Editing by Brenda Goh and Edwina Gibbs)