From crafting melodious verses about pandas to fabricating the “most endearing feline in the world,” China’s response to ChatGPT has recently seen the light of day. Ernie Bot, an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot of generative prowess, is now at the public’s fingertips, having secured the blessing of the Chinese government just last week. Unlike its global counterparts, China mandates that corporations undergo stringent security assessments and obtain official clearance before disseminating AI products en masse. Recently, regulatory efforts have been hastened to bolster companies involved in AI development, as the technology evolves into a focal point of competition vis-à-vis the United States.
Numerous Chinese enterprises have been granted permission to unveil ChatGPT-like offerings. Analysts assert that this fresh surge in development is underpinned by techno-nationalism and rivalry with the United States. Beijing, straddling the precipice between innovation and regulation, aspires to assert its dominance as an AI superpower.
Professor Haiqing Yu, a luminary in China’s digital media realm at RMIT University, characterized this as an AI “quantum leap.” However, the question looms: in an environment marked by rigorous online censorship, how influential can Ernie become, and how does this align with China’s aspirations of assuming global AI leadership?
Unveiling the Enigma: What is Ernie?
Ernie, a cryptic abbreviation denoting “Enhanced Representation through Knowledge Integration,” stands as a creation of the Chinese tech juggernaut, Baidu, which also happens to be China’s premier online search provider. Yet, it’s not the sole contender in this arena—four AI startups announced parallel public debuts last week, while corporate giants like ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, and Tencent, which boasts ownership of WeChat, have garnered official government nods for their AI pursuits, as relayed by Chinese media outlets.
Dr. Yang emphasized a pivotal facet of China’s interim AI regulations—content moderation. This mandates that companies bear the onus of purging “illicit content” from their creations. She observed that the definition of such content remains nebulous and often subject to interpretation, but elucidated that it predominantly pertains to content misaligned with the national interests of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Furthermore, all the content utilized by Ernie and fellow Chinese AI chatbots has already traversed China’s stringent censorship apparatus. “The content has already undergone scrutiny, and subsequently, they generate content susceptible to further scrutiny. This engenders layers of censorship during the process.”
Techno-Nationalism in the Tech Cold War
China has harbored aspirations of ascension as the global AI vanguard by 2030. Harvard economics professor David Yang elucidated that Beijing wields a formidable edge thanks to the colossal reservoirs of data amassed by the state. “Autocratic regimes aspire to prognosticate the whereabouts, thoughts, and conduct of their citizens,” he articulated in an earlier Harvard Gazette exposé this year. “And fundamentally, AI epitomizes predictive technology.”
Professor Yu invoked the Chinese proverb of “walking on two legs” to expound on Beijing’s AI strategy—encouraging both innovation and swift development of Chinese models to compete in the “Tech Cold War” with the United States, while concurrently instituting more stringent regulations, especially pertaining to content addressing domestic political matters.
She underscored that AI products targeting corporate entities do not necessitate the same level of government endorsement as those geared towards content creation and widespread public consumption.
China’s Ambition in the Realm of AI
Xi Jinping harbors ambitions of steering China toward an unrivaled status as the world’s preeminent artificial superpower by 2030, a prospect that some observers deem plausible.
Dr. Fan Yang contended that the genuine dividends of AI for corporations like Baidu lie not in products targeting the public but in collaborations with the nation-state—manifested in AI integrated into surveillance apparatuses, AI-driven voice recognition systems, and AI implementations within the military and defense sectors.
At an earlier juncture this year, a multitude of individuals affixed their signatures to an open letter beseeching a halt to AI research, apprehensive of an “unrestrained race” to develop potent digital intellects that their creators could not rein in—a stance supported by certain Chinese AI experts. Professor Yu asserted that China has embarked on an ambitious yet circumspect trajectory in the AI domain, constituting what she characterized as a “complex contraction,” one that would resonate with the Chinese populace. “They endeavor to strike a balance between the competing demands of regulation and deregulation,” she remarked.
Resourceful Methods: Chinese Users Outsmart the Great Firewall to Access ChatGPT
Paragraph 13:Internet denizens employ inventive stratagems to circumvent China’s formidable Great Firewall in order to connect with a US-produced chatbot. As Beijing rolls out regulations paving the path for the country’s generative AI renaissance.
“China stands among the pioneering nations to govern AI and, in particular, algorithms associated with generative AI. China seeks to project itself onto the global stage as a responsible AI superpower, not solely driven by profit or control but also to bolster its image as a conscientious player on the world platform.”