Chinese AI companies show resilience and innovation at AI event despite U.S. sanctions

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese tech companies, from industry giants to ambitious startups, flocked to the Global AI Congress in Shanghai this week to show off their latest innovations and demonstrate strong support for China's artificial intelligence sector in the face of U.S. sanctions.

According to event organizers, the conference will showcase more than 150 AI-related products and solutions, with participation mainly from Chinese companies, as well as a few foreign companies such as Tesla and Qualcomm.

The conference also served as a platform for several companies to launch their latest AI products.

One notable example is SenseTime, a company that was previously focused on facial recognition technology but has recently shifted its focus to generative AI following OpenAI's release of ChatGPT in late 2022.

The company on Friday announced SenseNova 5.5, its most advanced large-scale language model (LLM), which is touted as a rival to OpenAI's GPT-4o in areas such as mathematical reasoning.

Despite challenges posed by U.S. sanctions that limit access to advanced chips, many executives at the conference expressed confidence that Chinese companies will continue to thrive in AI.

Zhang Ping'an, head of Huawei's cloud computing division, told the forum that the idea that a shortage of cutting-edge artificial intelligence chips would hinder China's goal of becoming a leader in AI needs to be “abandoned.”

“No one can deny that China's computing power is limited,” Zhang said. “If you think China can't lead in AI without cutting-edge AI chips, you need to abandon this view.”

To address the lack of access to cutting-edge chips, Zhang called for more innovation in areas such as cloud computing.

This was echoed by Liu Qingfeng, chairman of AI company Iflytek, which, like Huawei, is on a sanctions list that bans it from buying advanced chips from US companies.

In an interview on the state-run China News Agency's WeChat account, Liu said that many of the LLMs developed by Chinese companies, including Iflytek, are now able to compete with OpenAI's GPT-4.

“We need to have our own law master's degree program that China can independently develop and manage, benchmark itself against the world's best standards, and continuously close the gap,” he said.

Some executives, including Robin Li, CEO of Chinese search engine giant Baidu, have called on the AI ​​industry to shift focus from developing LLMs, which require massive computing power and AI chips, and instead prioritize the adoption of AI.

“Without applications, there's no point in having just the basic model, whether it's open source or closed source,” Lee said at the conference.

(Reporting by Casey Hall in our Shanghai and Beijing newsrooms; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Anil DeSilva)

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