Chinese tech giant Baidu is setting up a venture capital fund of $145 million or 1 billion yuan to back AI-focused startups. Baidu co-founder and CEO Robin Li announced the launch of the fund at a JP Morgan summit in China this week.
The move could signal China’s push towards self-reliance in the cut-throat generative AI sector. The fund will support the development and innovation of AI-based content creation, such as chatbots, video and audio synthesis, and natural language processing.
The fund is targeting early-stage AI applications, an area which Chinese generative AI startups have so far struggled to reach widespread adoption.
Tailing the US’s OpenAI
OpenAI recently created an investment fund valued at more than $175 million, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. the company has been investing in startups, with its OpenAI Startup Fund to back companies “pushing the boundaries of how powerful AI can positively impact the world.”
Baidu is also planning to launch competition for developers to build applications using its Ernie large language model (LLM) or integrate the model into their existing products, in a similar fashion other tech firms are using OpenAI’s ChatGPT technology.
Ernie bot is Baidu’s own AI-powered LLM that can generate natural and coherent texts based on user inputs.
“American developers are building new applications based on ChatGPT or other language models. In China, there will be an increasing number of developers building AI applications using Ernie as their foundation,” said Li.
Baidu unveiled the chatbot in March this year and claimed that it outperformed other LLMs in several benchmarks.
Battle for AI supremacy
The success of ChatGPT has put Chinese tech companies under pressure to fast-track the release of their own LLMs and bring them to market.
A report by a state-run research firm says over 79 LLMs have been launched in the past 3 years.
And the Baidu boss predicts that in the generative AI age, Chinese companies will catch up, and even lead the way in discovering commercial applications for AI.
“I am very bullish on China AI development. Over the past few decades, China has warmly embraced new technologies,” said Li.
“Even though we didn’t invent Android, iOS or Windows, we developed a host of very innovative applications like WeChat, Douyin and Didi. Many of them are popular and useful. The same trend is playing out in the AI age. Technology ushers in a myriad of possibilities and we are good at capturing them to build applications,” explained Li.
LLMs, a vital tech
Since they can produce realistic and varied material across a range of subjects and forms, LLMs are seen as a vital technology for expanding AI applications and services. They do, however, also present ethical and legal difficulties, such as possible abuse, plagiarism, and bias. China released draft regulations on the use of generative AI in April in response to the spike in LLMs, requiring developers to acquire approval and explicitly label such products.
The growth and adoption of AI-based content production in China and elsewhere are anticipated to be accelerated by Baidu’s venture capital fund and competition.