E-commerce and technology giant, Alibaba, has unveiled its AI chatbot, Tongyi Qianwen.
The large language model (LLM) is the Hangzhou-based firm’s answer to Microsoft-backed, ChatGPT, a popular chatbot that has taken the internet by storm since its release in November 2022.
Alibaba intends to integrate Tongyi Qianwen into all of its products, according to company chairman and chief executive, Daniel Zhang Yong.
The 51-year-old was delivering a keynote address at the megafirm’s Cloud Summit Annual in Beijing and said the newly-developed chatbot would elevate Alibaba services to a higher level of intelligence.
The chatbot’s name was inspired by the warring states-era philosopher, Mencius, and roughly translated means “Truth from a thousand questions”.
Built with English and Chinese language capabilities, Tongyi Qianwen will be integrated first into DingTalk, the company’s digital workplace collaboration application, and Tmall Genie, Alibaba’s voice-prompted virtual assistant.
Zhang’s keynote address was his first as Alibaba Cloud (Ali Cloud) CEO since taking over the position in December last year.
Zhang assumed the role after cloud services experienced an “equipment anomaly” resulting in widespread breakdowns in the country’s southern metropoles of Hong Kong and Macau.
Alibaba’s Hong Kong listing rose 2.5% with the news of Tongyi Qianwen’s imminent release, according to a Bloomberg report.
However, so did several competing firms with similar AI tools in the works, like SenseTime Group, China’s most valuable AI specialist, whose stock listing received a push when rumours it was developing its challenger to ChatGPT were circulating in early April.
Alibaba’s cloud customers can access a beta version of the chatbot and the Jack Ma-founded firm is offering trials upon request, according to Interesting Engineering.
Zhang described Tongyi Qianwen’s launch as a watershed moment for the company’s cloud services arm in an era where more businesses are embracing AI-powered technologies to keep ahead of the competition.
Lu Yanxia, a researcher at IT consultancy, IDC China, said that Tongyi Qianwen could be integrated into Alibaba’s services, but revenue from LLMs will be relatively small, particularly at the outset.
Lu did add, however, that some well-performing chatbots could see significant upside in their long-term gains.
Alibaba’s fourth-quarter revenue in 2022 rose 3 per cent, reaching a reported $2.92 billion year-on-year, according to the South China Morning Post.
Despite moving in the correct direction, the rate of growth is in stark contrast to previous periods where yearly revenue increased by as much as 30 per cent, according to a March 2023 report by global market analyst, Canalys.