China takes on ChatGPT with a rival AI chatbot

China takes on ChatGPT: Chinese tech giant Alibaba launches a rival AI chatbot – but experts raise concerns it could be used to SPY on users

  • Chinese firm launches Tongyi Qianwen, or ‘the truth of a thousand questions’ 
  • ChatGPT-style tool developed with Chinese and English language capabilities
  • But a privacy expert believes the input data could be used to spy on companies

Alibaba is the latest company to join the global chatbot race, ignited by the popularity of ChatGPT. 

The Chinese technology firm has launched a new tool called Tongyi Qianwen, a name that roughly translates as ‘the truth of a thousand questions’.  

Just like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard, Tongyi Qianwen has been trained on a massive amount of text so it can generate human-like responses to user queries.  

It will be integrated into all the company’s products in the ‘near future’, including its smart speaker and workplace app, with both Chinese and English language abilities.

Alibaba is just one Chinese company that’s been busy developing its own conversational AI tech – but there are concerns it could be used to spy on users. 

Alibaba, a Chinese technology company specialising in e-commerce, will integrate its new chatbot Tongyi Qianwen into all its products 

According to Jake Moore, tech expert and security advisor at ESET, chatbots are often fed very sensitive data that could include secret company information. 

What is Tongyi Qianwen?

Tongyi Qianwen is a new large language model (LLM) developed by Chinese company Alibaba.

Unveiled in April 2023, it is said to be capable of generating text, translating languages, writing different kinds of creative content, and answering questions in an informative way.

Alibaba plans to make it available to businesses and developers through its cloud platform. It is expected to be used in a variety of applications, including customer service, marketing, and product development. 

‘This data is extremely valuable and could be used to spy on companies if shared with third parties,’ Moore said. 

‘It must be remembered that AI does not only intelligently create impressive output but it also analyses the input that feeds the algorithm and stores it forever.’ 

Although Alibaba is not state-owned, it does allegedly have members of the ruling Chinese Community Party (CCP) stationed inside the company.  

So there’s a possibility data garnered by Tongyi Qianwen could be shared with the Chinese government. 

‘One can assume that nothing happens in China without the authorities knowing about it or directly sanctioning it,’ Moore said. 

‘Therefore, with the recent security threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party potentially being able to view TikTok data, it can be assumed the same threat will occur here.’ 

Announced at the the 2023 Alibaba Cloud Summit, Tongyi Qianwen ‘will bring about big changes to the way we produce, the way we work, and the way we live our lives’.

‘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 CEO Daniel Zhang said at a livestreamed event.

With Chinese and English language capabilities, the model will first be deployed on DingTalk, Alibaba’s digital collaboration workplace and application development platform

AI models like Tongyi Qianwen are ‘the big picture for making AI more popular in the future,’ he added.

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Zhang said that Alibaba and other companies working on AI models were at the ‘starting line’ of a new phenomenon.

‘Seizing this opportunity is a common wish for all of us,’ he said.

In a filmed demo, Tongyi Qianwen drafted invitation letters, planned trip itineraries and advised shoppers on types of make-up to purchase.

Tongyi Qianwen will initially be integrated into DingTalk, Alibaba’s workplace messaging app, where it will be used to summarise meeting notes, write emails and draft business proposals. 

It will also be added to AliGenie, Alibaba’s voice assistant that powers its Tmall Genie range of smart speakers. 

A Tongyi Qianwen-powered Tmall Genie will be able to ‘engage in more dynamic and vivid conversations’ with users in China, the company said. 

Examples include developing and telling stories to children, providing healthy diet recipes, offering travel tips and recommending background music for a workout.

Tongyi Qianwen is currently only available through an invite-only beta test for corporate clients, but it’s expected to get a wider rollout. 

Alibaba is the latest company to joining a global chatbot race ignited by the popularity of ChatGPT (pictured) 

Alibaba will also offer its clients access to Tongyi Qianwen on the cloud and help them build customized large language models (LLM). 

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‘By fine-tuning Tongyi Qianwen with customers’ proprietary intelligence and industrial know-how in a secure cloud environment, enterprises can establish tailored AI models to suit their specific business needs,’ it said in a statement. 

A number of Chinese companies have already revealed or teased AI models and chatbots.

In March, search giant Baidu announced Ernie Bot, an acronym for ‘Enhanced Representation of Knowledge Integration’.

Ernie Bot, which currently is open only to trial users, can be implemented in applications such as searches, AI cloud, autonomous driving and in smart devices. 

Baidu plans to use Ernie Bot to revolutionise its search engine, by far the most dominant in China, as well as use it to increase efficiency in its cloud, smart cars and household appliances businesses.

Baidu CEO Robin Li said Ernie Bot has not been perfected, but the company went ahead with presenting it due to high demand.

Company shares plunged after Li showed a pre-recorded demonstration of the Ernie Bot instead of the real-time live demonstration many had expected.

Baidu co-founder and CEO Robin Li speaks at the unveiling of Baidus AI chatbot Ernie Bot at an event in Beijing on March 16, 2023

During the demonstration, Ernie Bot was asked questions about a Chinese science-fiction novel, The Three-Body Problem, and was asked to make an image based on prompts.

‘Baidu has for over a decade persisted in investing in artificial intelligence,’ Li said. ‘Ernie Bot is the result of many years of hard work.’ 

Meanwhile, Chinese AI company SenseTime unveiled a range of new AI products –including a chatbot called SenseChat – on Monday. 

SenseTime CEO Xu Li showed a live demonstration of the chatbot writing an email and telling a story about a cat catching a fish when prompted by questions, as well as scripting computer codes. 

The company – which is behind controversial facial recognition technologies – did not provide detailed plans for SenseChat’s roll out, but said attendees could try out the products. 

Global interest in generative AI, which learns how to take actions from past data to create new content, has surged since the release of ChatGPT by Microsoft-backed OpenAI late last year.

Rival company Google quickly came up with its own chatbot, called Bard, which it released at the end of March. 

Microsoft has been melding ChatGPT into its Bing search engine, which once posed a rival to Google Search before falling well behind. 

Google execs are said to have declared a ‘code red’ – an emergency situation – over fears ChatGPT could now end Google’s $150-billion-a-year search business monopoly.

Chinese firms working on ChatGPT-style AI technology 


E-commerce giant Alibaba showed off its AI large language model called Tongyi Qianwen that it said would be integrated into all of the company’s apps in the near future.

Tongyi Qianwen will initially be integrated into DingTalk, Alibaba’s workplace messaging app and Tmall Genie, Alibaba’s voice assistant.


Chinese AI firm SenseTime on April 10 unveiled a slew of new AI powered products including a chatbot and image generator based off its AI model SenseNova. The company did not detail any plans for a product roll out.


Baidu on March 16 unveiled its much-anticipated AI-powered chatbot known as Ernie Bot, currently available to a limited number of users who apply for access codes.

Tests conducted by Reuters show that the chatbot has a good command of the Chinese language but avoids answering some political questions.

Baidu plans to use Ernie Bot to revolutionise its search engine, by far the most dominant in China, as well as use it to increase efficiency in its cloud, smart cars and household appliances businesses.


Tencent has set up a development team to work on a ChatGPT-like chatbot to be called ‘HunyuanAide’, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters in February. Asked for comment, Tencent reiterated a Feb.9 statement that it is conducting research on ChatGPT-tool technology.


A team from China’s Fudan University launched a ChatGPT-like chatbot they called MOSS on Febuary 20. The platform, however, crashed hours after its launch due a surge in traffic and the team apologised, saying it was a very immature model that had a long way to go before reaching the level of ChatGPT.


E-commerce company JD.Com said on Feb. 10 it plans to launch a product similar to ChatGPT that it said would be called ChatJD and will be aimed at serving other businesses.


China Telecom Corp is developing an industrial version of ChatGPT for telecommunications, which will use AI in some customer service functions, local media reported Febuary 18.


Gaming firm NetEase plans to deploy large language models technology to serve its education business, a source told Reuters. 


360 Security Technology Inc said on Feb. 8 it possessed language model technology but that it could not give a clear indication on when it would launch any related products.


Short video app Kuaishou Technology is conducting research on large language models, which it will use to improve its products such as AI customer service, government-backed the Paper reported on Febuary 9.


Inspur Electronic Information Industry said on its investors relation website that it has long invested in AI-Generated Content technology.


Beijing based-mobile games firm Kunlun Tech said this week it would be holding an event on April 17 that would allow the public to test its ChatGPT-like product.

The company has also said it will embed ChatGPT into its Norway-based web browser Opera.

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