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Alibaba unveils ambition for a copilot as China steps up scrutiny over generative AI

Over the last few months, the world’s two biggest economies have been racing to showcase their generative AI capabilities. ChatGPT, Midjourney, the new Bing and others have captivated tens of millions of users around the world. In China, entrepreneurs are racing to match their American counterparts. Baidu rolled out a ChatGPT equivalent, for instance.

Today, another Chinese tech giant, Alibaba, unveiled its latest effort in generative AI that in a way is reminiscent of Microsoft’s Copilot, which is using AI to make using the giant’s family of apps easier by letting people use natural language to describe what they want to build.

On Tuesday, Alibaba announced that its large language model, Tongyi Qianwen, will be integrated across the firm’s businesses to improve user experience. In addition, its customers and developers can create customized AI features by leveraging the model.

The Chinese e-commerce and cloud computing behemoth has a wide array of business lines that range from food delivery, video streaming, ecommerce, enterprise communication to flight booking. From the sound of Alibaba’s announcement, all of these services are essentially ready for some AI disruption.

The company has already put natural language to use in two apps. In a pre-recorded demo, Alibaba showed how its Slack-like workplace chat app Dingtalk uses Tongyi Qianwen to summarize chat history, come up with corporate culture slogans, write meeting minutes and convert handwritten charts to mini apps. The LLM is also being baked into Tmall Genie, said the announcement, the smart voice assistant of Alibaba’s premium online retailer.

“We are at a technological watershed moment driven by generative AI and cloud computing, and businesses across all sectors have started to embrace intelligence transformation to stay ahead of the game,” said Daniel Zhang, chairman and CEO of Alibaba Group and CEO of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, in a statement.

“As a leading global cloud computing service provider, Alibaba Cloud is committed to making computing and AI services more accessible and inclusive for enterprises and developers, enabling them to uncover more insights, explore new business models for growth, and create more cutting-edge products and services for society.”

Users have yet to see or try Alibaba’s full suite of products powered by AI, so it’s still way too early to say how robust these upgraded services are. But there are already some limitations on how AI can be used across internet services.

On the same day that Alibaba announced its ambitious AI moves, China’s top internet watchdog released draft measures to regulate how tech companies should serve users with generative AI models. The proposed rules came as no surprise, mostly in line with previous regulations introduced to regulate other aspects of AI. For instance, the new draft measures require that AI service providers must register their algorithms with the internet authority, verify users’ identities and keep a record of their data input, such as AI prompts.

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