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China cuts off two chatbots: A local effort that flopped, and ChatGPT

Meanwhile Baidu plans to add its Ernie generative AI to search in March

China's reaction to ChatGPT fever has seen a university-developed version crash within hours of launch, even more new regulations from Beijing, and an accelerated timeline to deploy the tech from local AI giant Baidu.

The crash happened at Fudan University, which on Monday released a platform called MOSS. The developers behind MOSS had hopes that it might rival OpenAI's wildly popular service. Locals were so eager to chat with MOSS that it collapsed under the weight of traffic.

Researchers have since shut down public access to the tool.

"MOSS needs to be upgraded to ensure the user experience and is now out of service," reads the message on the tool's landing page.

Its developers conceded that the model still has a way to go before matching ChatGPT for either sophistication or scale. They also admitted lacking the necessary engineering experience to continue operation.

"The gap between MOSS and ChatGPT is mainly in the pre-training stage of natural language model base. The number of parameters of MOSS is an order of magnitude smaller than that of ChatGPT, and there is still a lot of room for improvement in task completion and knowledge reserve," MOSS team member and professor at the University of Fudan, Qiu Xipeng, told Chinese media.

A journalist who experimented with MOSS prior to its withdrawal from service reportedly told local media that MOSS is more proficient in English than Chinese.

ChatGPT can generate text in over 90 natural languages, including Chinese. It can translate between natural languages, but performance varies depending on language.

Aside from the fact that Chinese and English are two completely differently structured languages, any potential developers of a Chinese large scale AI model must contend with Beijing's censorship policies.

According to news reports, those policies have seen regulators tell some of China's biggest firms not to integrate ChatGPT into their platforms for fear of uncensored replies.

Nikkei Asia claims Tencent Holdings and Ant Group were instructed not to offer access and tech providers will now need to report when they launch their own versions. Web giant Tencent has also reportedly suspended related third-party services.

As for creating an approved indigenous version of the tool, industry may be having better luck than academia. Alibaba, Tencent, NetEase and all have versions in the works – as does Baidu.

In its Q4 earnings conference call yesterday, Baidu CEO Robin Li confirmed the company will release its conversational AI cot, Ernie, in March.

The tech giant told The Register the bot will be integrated into search, AI Cloud, its Apollo autonomous driving platform, and voice assistant Xiaodu. Baidu Search will be the first service to put Ernie to work.

Baidu has plans to open the model.

"We plan to make these technologies widely available to our customers, developers and ecosystem partners to help boost productivity across industries. By opening the generative large language model to the public, we expect more and more business owners and entrepreneurs to build their own models and applications on our AI Cloud,” said Li in the earnings call. ®

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