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Game-changer AI gets full support

By CHENG YU| China Daily| Updated: July 14, 2023 L M S

Country to boost policies, develop national standards for LLM technology

China is actively encouraging artificial intelligence companies as well as research institutes to build large language models, as part of a broader effort to boost the country's prowess in the critical technology behind ChatGPT, a text-generating AI chatbot developed by US-based tech firm Open-AI that went viral across the world after it was launched late last year.

Industry experts believe the move will be a game changer in the deepening tech rivalry between the United States and China, the world's two largest economies.

On Tuesday, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Economy and Information Technology told China Daily that Beijing will offer over 40 million yuan ($5.6 million) in subsidies for the first batch to support companies involved in LLM training.

"The US continues to move forward. If China cannot make its own universal large language model in the second half of this year, we might not even be able to see the 'taillights of cars' in the future," said Yu Linwei, deputy head of Shanghai's Xuhui district, at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai last week.

The China Electronics Standardization Institute, which is under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the country's top regulator for industries, said during the conference that a national standard for LLMs would be implemented soon. It has enlisted internet search leader Baidu Inc, telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co, cybersecurity firm 360 Security Technology and e-commerce company Alibaba Group, to lead in the development of the standard.

The authorities have been planning to standardize LLMs in the country since the ChatGPT frenzy last year, said an industry veteran who is close to the institute, asking not to be identified by name. As this is guided by an AI working group of the National Information Security Standardization Technical Committee set up in 2020, almost all leading internet firms are involved, the source said.

"It means that the names of the companies announced this time in Shanghai are only the first batch. A large number of tech companies and research institutes have already joined in the making of such standards," the source added.

A company executive who is familiar with the matter said that Xiaomi Corp; CloudWalk, an AI company backed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences; SenseTime and iFlytek are all member companies of this working group.

Beijing has the largest number of such models, 38, followed by Shanghai as well as Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces, the report said.

China's capital city has launched a package of supportive policies to drive the innovative development of generative AI, said Jiang Guangzhi, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Economy and Information Technology, at the Global Digital Economic Conference in Beijing last week.

In addition to standard-setting, the city has encouraged local companies and government departments to "purchase and use safe LLMs and related services", Jiang said.

He said Beijing also plans to launch policies related to computing power that will help small- and medium-sized enterprises conduct LLM training and applications amid the ChatGPT boom.

"Computing power is a major bottleneck restraining Chinese companies in terms of LLM applications. More efforts are needed to boost the overall planning and coordination of resources and accelerate basic research and technological innovation to actively participate in global AI governance and further promote the orderly development of LLMs," said Zhao Zhiyun, head of the ISTIC.

To help SMEs with computing power, Jiang said more than 10 computing power partners are expected to offer low-cost and high-quality computing power to AI SMEs.

A total of 10 data partners have opened 18 high-quality data sets of nearly 500 terabytes for companies to do LLM training, he added.

In addition to Beijing, cities including Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Suzhou and Chengdu have all unveiled supporting policies to drive LLM development in terms of computing power, data and ecology.

Shanghai, for instance, will offer a maximum 30 percent subsidy of companies' computer power investment, or up to 5 million yuan, to drive the research and development of LLMs. Shenzhen has said it plans to launch a guideline for the openness and sharing of public data by the end of this year.

"Though local governments have poured great investment into the development of large language models, it is not enough. More efforts are needed from the government to increase investment so that China can truly stand at the forefront of LLMs," said Dai Qionghai, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

Compared with ChatGPT, current LLMs of Chinese companies are more "industry-driven", as seen from the dozens of large models launched currently.

Tencent Cloud, the cloud subsidiary of Chinese internet firm Tencent Holdings, launched its industry-specific large model in June.

"General or universal large models are mostly trained based on public information that may contain errors, rumors and biases and lack professional know-how and industry data," said Dowson Tong, Tencent's senior executive vice-president and CEO of the company's cloud and smart industries group.

Data from such models contain too much "noise" and are likely to cause huge legal liabilities or public relations crises. Therefore, companies need more industry-specific models, Tong said.

He said Tencent's one-stop industry-specific large model solution has covered 10 major industries, such as finance, culture and tourism, government affairs, media and education, and is able to offer 50 different kinds of solutions.

"In addition, the larger the model is, the higher the cost of training. Companies also tend to choose a suitable model at a reasonable cost," he added.

Compared to general or universal large models like ChatGPT, industry-specific large models are basically industrial versions of ChatGPT focused on niche sectors. They can better leverage industry data to offer more targeted solutions, industry experts said.

Huawei Technologies Co unveiled the latest version of its LLM last week that is also more industry-driven.

It is already being used in more than 10 sectors such as finance, manufacturing, government affairs, power, coal mining, healthcare and railways, supporting the implementation of AI applications in over 400 business scenarios, the company said.

Zhou Hongyi, founder of 360 Security Group, has said that only by empowering hundreds of industries can LLMs truly promote the revolution brought about by AI.

The real potential of LLMs comes from an enterprises-oriented market and the country should seize the opportunity of industrial development to develop LLMs, he added.

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