🦾ERNIE 4.0 vs GPT-4, Tightened AI Chip Restrictions, Alibaba Tencent Fund AI Startup, and China’s Global AI Governance Initiative

Weekly China AI News from October 16 to October 22

Recode China AI
7 min readOct 23, 2023

🫶Hello Readers, welcome to this week’s issue where I dive into Baidu’s newest foundation model, ERNIE 4.0. In policy news, the Biden administration has clamped down further on AI chip exports to China. Meanwhile, Alibaba and Tencent, usually competitors, have joined forces to invest in the same AI startups. Finally, China has rolled out a global AI governance initiative aimed at tackling broad concerns surrounding AI development and governance.

ERNIE 4.0: Baidu’s Latest AI Model Takes on GPT-4

What’s new: The biggest AI news in China this week is ERNIE 4.0, launched by Baidu at its annual Baidu World conference on October 17. Baidu CEO Robin Li didn’t hold back, declaring ERNIE 4.0 a match for OpenAI’s GPT-4.

ERNIE 4.0 is now accessible to invited users on ERNIE Bot, and the API will be available upon application to enterprise clients via Baidu AI Cloud.

How it works: In a series of live demos, Robin Li showcased ERNIE Bot’s capabilities in understanding, generation, reasoning, and memory.

  • First up, ERNIE Bot answered a tricky question about property loans — even though Li’s prompt was deliberately vague.
  • Like a marketing team, the bot churned out a set of car promotional materials, including a slick video, all from a single line of text and an image.
  • Shifting to reasoning, ERNIE Bot solved a complex geometry problem and broke down the steps like a math teacher.
  • Lastly, ERNIE Bot penned a martial arts novel, weaving in intricate details without losing track of the story.

ERNIE 4.0 vs GPT-4: The tech media in China couldn’t wait to pit ERNIE 4.0 against GPT-4:

Qbit量子位: ERNIE 4.0 certainly holds its own against GPT-4, particularly excelling in understanding Chinese and general knowledge.

Synced机器之心: The advancements in ERNIE 4.0’s core abilities are indeed significant, standing toe-to-toe with GPT-4, especially when it comes to Chinese.

Chaping差评: After five rounds, ERNIE slightly lost to GPT-4 but showed marked improvements in understanding and memory in the Chinese language.

My first impression: After playing with ERNIE 4.0, I found it less prone to making things up, more attentive to my prompts, and more insightful in its replies compared to ERNIE 3.5. Plus, it’s really good at English. Below are questions I borrowed from the paper Boosting Theory-of-Mind Performance in Large Language Models via Prompting to test the bot. While GPT-4 answered incorrectly in zero-shot testing, ERNIE 4.0 nailed most of them.

New search: Baidu also showcased unique AI features for its flagship applications. Baidu Search has been enhanced with AI capabilities to provide overviews in response to queries, such as dynamic charts and multimodal data. Baidu Maps can customize travel plans based on individual preferences and specifications. Baidu Drive, akin to Google Drive, now offers the ability to summarize files and automatically add subtitles to videos.

Biden Administration Imposes Stricter AI Chip Export Limits on China

What’s new: Last Tuesday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced tightened restrictions on the export of AI chips and manufacturing equipment to China, a part of a broader effort to maintain military superiority and prevent China from acquiring advanced semiconductor technology and AI.

How it works: The new restrictions update the 2022 chip restriction’s limitations, closing loopholes that allowed China to obtain advanced chips through subsidiaries in other countries.

Chips that are less advanced but still have powerful capabilities will also fall under the new guidelines. Chips in a so-called “gray zone” will face increased scrutiny. The New York Times previously reported that the A800 and H800, two specialized chips produced by Nvidia for the China market that were slower than its SOTA A100 and H100 chips but complied with the previous criteria for chips, will likely be prohibited.

Alibaba and Tencent Jointly Invest in Chinese AI Startups

What’s new: Tech giants Alibaba and Tencent have joined forces to invest in Zhipu AI, a rising AI startup that develops ChatGLM and CogView. A spinoff of Tsinghua University, Zhipu AI has bagged RMB2.5 billion (~$340 million) in 2023. Other investors include HongShan (formerly Sequoia China), Ant Group, Xiaomi, Meituan, Kingsoft, TAL Education Group, and Boss Zhipin.

This investment is part of a recent wave of aggressive funding by Alibaba and Tencent, who are casting a wide net across the AI startup ecosystem.

Why it matters: Both Alibaba and Tencent are betting big on AI, but what sets this deal apart is the collaboration between these typically competing giants. In addition, both companies have also put their chips in Baichuan AI, founded by Wang Xiaochuan, which raised $300 million in a new A1 strategic funding round.

In the same arena, Tencent has gone all-in this year, leading a $220 million round in June for Beyond Lightyear, founded by Meituan Co-founder but later acquired by Meituan, with $80 million, as well as making investments in DeepLang and MiniMax, essentially covering most of the leading LLM startups on the market.

China Proposes Global AI Governance Initiative

What’s new: On October 18, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced China’s Global AI Governance Initiative in his keynote at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, signaling the nation’s proactive stance in shaping the future of AI governance.

How it works: The Initiative breaks down China’s vision for AI governance into three main areas: development, security, and governance, according to a Foreign Ministry spokesperson. Key principles include:

  • Adopting a people-centered approach for AI development to benefit human progress.
  • Promoting mutual respect, equality, and mutual benefit, and opposing ideological divisions that could hinder AI advancement.
  • Advocating for risk-level-based testing and assessment systems to make AI technologies secure, reliable, and equitable.
  • Supporting the establishment of international AI governance frameworks and standards based on broad consensus and UN discussions.
  • Encouraging international cooperation, especially with developing countries, to bridge AI and governance gaps.

The initiative also stressed its opposition to “creating barriers and disrupting the global AI supply chain through technological monopolies and unilateral coercive measures.”

Why it matters: China has taken significant strides in AI regulation and governance. By further opening the floor to international discussions and practical cooperation, the country wants to position itself as a key player in the global AI landscape.

Weekly News Roundup

🛒 Taobao’s AI model application “Taobao Wenwen” is set to launch its Double 11 promotion mode, offering comprehensive discount information to help users make cost-effective purchasing decisions.

🤖 iFlytek will announce the launch of its Spark Cognitive Large Model V3.0 on October 24, featuring improvements across seven dimensions and introducing new applications in healthcare and AI-based educational and psychological counseling.

📱 Vivo’s LLM has been implemented in its OriginOS 4 system, distinguished from integrated voice assistants, it appears as a sidebar pop-up, similar to Microsoft’s Copilot.

Trending Research

Uni3D: Exploring Unified 3D Representation at Scale: In this work, the researchers introduce Uni3D, a scalable 3D foundation model that utilizes a 2D initialized ViT for aligning 3D point cloud features with image-text features, setting new records in various 3D tasks and offering applications like 3D painting and retrieval.

MagicDrive: Street View Generation with Diverse 3D Geometry Control: The paper introduces MagicDrive, a novel framework for generating high-fidelity street views with precise 3D geometry control through tailored encoding strategies and a cross-view attention module, improving tasks like Bird’s-Eye View segmentation and 3D object detection.

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Recode China AI

A weekly newsletter on emerging AI trends and technologies in China