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05 July, 2024

OpenAI’s China Block: Fueling a Local AI Boom?

In June OpenAI just dropped a bombshell – they’re cutting off China and Hong Kong from their fancy language models like GPT-4o starting next month. Even VPNs won’t help you get around this one. But here’s the million-dollar question: Could this move actually backfire and kick China’s AI game into high gear? Or will it put a serious dent in their tech progress?

If history’s any guide, these kinds of restrictions often light a fire under local innovation. Recall what happened with Huawei after the US sanctions: they faced some serious hurdles but still managed to pull off some impressive tech feats, like developing 7-nm chips for their latest Mate 60 pro.

China’s AI scene is already showing some promising signs. Back in April, SenseTime (a Hong Kong AI company known for facial recognition) saw its stock go through the roof after announcing its new language model. They’re basically the first Chinese AI unicorn.

This OpenAI ban might just be the push China and Hong Kong need to step up their own AI game. Western AI models trained on western data might miss some of the finer points of Chinese language and culture. On the other hand, China’s got a ton of Chinese language data to work with, which could lead to better Chinese-focused AI. In other words, no matter how advanced Western AI gets, it might never quite hit the mark in China due to big differences in language, culture, and how information flows.

China’s been crushing it in AI research lately, even outpacing the US in AI patents. Local startups are jumping in too, like Beijing’s 01.AI with their own language model. Sure, it’s based on Meta’s open-source Llama, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s a matter of time before China’s homegrown models come to the fore, better regulated and potentially better safeguarded against misuse.

Having their own AI isn’t just about tech independence. These models can tap into cultural and local context that outsiders might miss, which is huge for a country with as much history as China. Plus, it could help balance out the current English-heavy AI world, making AI more diverse and inclusive.

OpenAI’s ban might be a pain in the short term for Chinese and Hong Kong AI users. But it could end up kickstarting a whole new wave of local AI innovation. By pushing them to develop AI that really gets local languages, cultures, and needs, this restriction might accidentally help create a more diverse global AI scene. It’s funny how sometimes, restrictions can lead to impressive breakthroughs and self-reliance. Time will tell.