Alibaba Cloud hops on ChatGPT bandwagon, offers AI model to customers and developers

Customers and developers in China will be able to access Alibaba Cloud's large language model Tongyi Qianwen, which also will be integrated into the cloud vendor's business applications.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Alibaba Cloud is the latest vendor to hop on the ChatGPT bandwagon with a large language model that it says customers and developers will be able to access. 

Called Tongyi Qianwen (loosely translated from Chinese as meaning from a thousand questions), the artificial intelligence (AI) model also will power all of Alibaba's business applications in the "near future". This integration will aim to improve user experience across its products and services, spanning e-commerce, search, navigation, entertainment, enterprise communication, and intelligence voice assistance, the Chinese cloud vendor said Tuesday. 

With both Chinese and English language capabilities, Tongyi Qianwen first will be deployed on Alibaba's online collaboration workplace platform DingTalk as well as smart voice assistant, Tmall Genie. Powered by the large language model, DingTalk can be tapped to write e-mail and draft business proposals. Users also will be able to create an app on DingTalk by taking a photo of an idea written on a piece of paper, according to Alibaba.

It added that Tmall Genie can engage in "more dynamic and vivid" conversations with users in China, where the product is sold. The voice assistant device can create and tell stories to kids and offer diet recipes.

Customers keen to access Tongyi Qianwen to build their own large language models can do so via Alibaba's cloud platform. The AI model currently is available only to the vendor's enterprise customers in China for beta testing. 

It also is offered as an API for developers in China to beta test, said Alibaba, which added that the AI model "soon" will be made available to developers to build their own AI applications for various verticals, such as logistics, manufacturing, energy, and retail. 

Further plans are in the works to add multimodal capabilities, including image recognition and text-to-image, to Tongyi Qianwen, the cloud vendor said. 

The large language model runs on Tongyi, Alibaba's pre-trained AI framework that encompasses various models, including converting text to images and short videos. The vendor last year introduced a Tongyi-powered text-to-image AI model, ModelScope, which offers 800 models. The open source platform currently has more than 1 million active users and, to date, has clocked 16 million model downloads, according to Alibaba. 

Alibaba Group Chairman and CEO Daniel Zhang said: "We are at a technological watershed moment driven by generative AI and cloud computing, and businesses across all sectors have started to embrace intelligence transformation to stay ahead of the game. Alibaba Cloud is committed to making computing and AI services more accessible and inclusive for enterprises and developers, enabling them to uncover more insights, explore new business models for growth, and create more cutting-edge products and services for society."

Zhang, who also heads the company's cloud business, last month had confirmed Alibaba was looking to tap generative AI, with its research arm Damo Academy building several models that developers could customise for use in content creation, spanning image and video production. 

Alibaba last month announced a major overhaul of its organisational structure, splitting the company into six business entities, each with its own CEO who will report to a board of directors. 

With the exception of Taobao Tmall Commerce Group, which remains a wholly owned unit under Alibaba Group, each business group will have the ability to raise their own capital and seek an IPO. 

Zhang said the restructure would allow the respective businesses to be more agile and empower decision-making and faster response to market changes. 

The six business entities encompass: Cloud Intelligence Group; Taobao Tmall Commerce Group; Local Services Group; Cainiao Smart Logistics; Global Digital Commerce Group; and Digital Media and Entertainment Group. 

Describing the move as the most significant governance overhaul in Alibaba's 24-year history, the Chinese tech giant said the restructure would place the company in a position to "capture market opportunities and further stimulate growth". 


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