State-sponsored Chinese AI firm launches bot service to ‘surpass’ ChatGPT

A state-subsidized Chinese artificial intelligence (AI) company recently announced the launch of “Spark Model,” an AI system designed to compete directly with OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

The launch by the company, iFlytek, took place at a tech event in Hefei called “Spark Desk” and featured a full demonstration of the new system’s capabilities.

Per a translation provided by Bing, iFlytek founder and president Liu Qingfeng told event attendees that the Spark Model – also referred to as the “cognitive big model” – represented the “dawn of general artificial intelligence.”

While there’s no scientific consensus on whether general artificial intelligence (also referred to as artificial general intelligence, or AGI) is even possible using current machine learning techniques, the billionaire tech mogul did offer a comparison to ChatGPT and a timeline for updates:

“This year, we will continue to upgrade the big model, and on October 10, we will surpass ChatGPT in the Chinese [language] and reach the same level as it in English.”

Details about the underlying technology powering Spark Model are scarce as of the time of this article’s publishing, but Qingfeng described the AI’s capabilities as “far ahead of the existing system that can be measured in China.”

Direct comparisons between ChatGPT and similar models can be difficult to make without side-by-side benchmarking. Not only does OpenAI keep training details and other proprietary information under wraps, but ChatGPT is also banned in China – a fact that limits OpenAI’s ability to train its models on Chinese languages and culture.

The current ban on ChatGPT in China has been described as potentially stifling, especially when compared to Hong Kong – a city designated as a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China – where there’s no populace-wide ban on the use of technologies such as ChatGPT and cryptocurrency.

Related: China’s crypto stance unchanged by moves in Hong Kong, says exec

In Hong Kong and throughout the West, ChatGPT has become increasingly popular among cryptocurrency users and companies for its ability to generate code and as an underlying technology for the development of advanced trading bots and portfolio analysis. 

If the proposed upgrades to the Spark Model do manage to give iFlytek a leg up on OpenAI and ChatGPT, it would represent not only a monumental moment in tech (ChatGPT is widely considered among the most powerful of today’s generative AI systems) but it will also have done so in a relatively short amount of time.

According to Qingfeng, the company’s research arm began work on Spark Model just six months ago, on Dec. 22, 2022. By way of comparison, OpenAI began developing the precursor to its GPT products in 2015. ChatGPT wasn’t launched until Nov. 30, 2022. 

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