Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. have joined a $300 million financing for Baichuan, one of scores of Chinese AI startups hoping to capitalize on a surge of interest in developing ChatGPT-like services.
(Bloomberg) — Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. have joined a $300 million financing for Baichuan, one of scores of Chinese AI startups hoping to capitalize on a surge of interest in developing ChatGPT-like services.
Smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp. also participated in the early funding round for Baichuan, started in April by the founder of search engine Sogou and already a unicorn valued at more than $1 billion. Xiaomi co-founder Lei Jun’s Shunwei Capital also took part, according to a person familiar with the deal. The company now employs more than 170 people including engineers drawn from the ranks of Google, Huawei Technologies Co. and Tencent, the company said in a statement.
Baichuan is one of the more prominent startups developing generative AI in China, hoping to compete with the likes of Microsoft Corp. and OpenAI. The country’s tech firms are pouring billions into training and developing AI services, mirroring a wave of activity now convulsing Silicon Valley. On Tuesday, Baidu Inc.’s billionaire founder Robin Li declared his company’s large language model has caught up with OpenAI’s GPT-4, claiming the lead in the nationwide race.
Read more: Baidu Says Its AI as Good as ChatGPT in Big Claim for China
Baichuan was among the first batch of Chinese firms to win Beijing’s approval for public rollout. It has since released four open-source large language models and is working on two proprietary platforms, it said in the statement. Two of its open-source models have been downloaded 6 million times, the startup added.
Wang Xiaochuan, who named his startup after the Chinese phrase for “a hundred rivers,” told Bloomberg News this year that China may need years to catch up with the US.
The US-Chinese competition in AI has broader implications beyond dominance of technology. It’s expected to transform a plethora of industries from transport to media and finance, potentially powering a phase of economic growth. The technology also has government and military applications that could affect an already tense Washington-Beijing relationship.
That competition is clouded by US sanctions on Chinese access to the most advanced chips used to train and run AI models. Washington is tightening curbs on shipments of AI chips to the country, stoking that uncertainty.
Read more: Billionaires and Bureaucrats Mobilize China for AI Race With US
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