Chinese AI firms showcase resilience, innovations at AI event despite US sanctions

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese tech companies, from industry giants to ambitious startups, converged at the World AI Conference in Shanghai this week to showcase their latest innovations and express strong support for the country’s artificial intelligence sector even as it faces U.S. sanctions.

More than 150 AI-related products and solutions are being exhibited at the conference, with a small number of foreign firms such as Tesla and Qualcomm joining the predominantly Chinese line-up, according to the event organizer.

The conference has also served as a launchpad for some companies to introduce their latest AI products.

One notable example is SenseTime, which previously focused on facial recognition technology but recently shifted its attention to generative AI following the release of ChatGPT by OpenAI in late 2022.

On Friday, the company unveiled its SenseNova 5.5, its most advanced large language model (LLM), which is being 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 the AI sector.

Zhang Ping’an, the executive in charge of Huawei’s cloud computing unit, told a forum that the idea that a shortage of the most advanced artificial intelligence chips will hinder China’s aim to be a leader in AI needs to be “abandoned”.

“Nobody will deny that we are facing limited computing power in China,” Zhang said. “If we believe that not having the most advanced AI chips means we will be unable to lead in AI, then we need to abandon this viewpoint.”

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, has been placed on a sanctions list that bars it from purchasing advanced chips from U.S. companies.

On the WeChat account of state-owned China News Service, Liu said in an interview many of the LLMs developed by Chinese companies, including Iflytek’s, have been able to rival OpenAI’s GPT-4.

“We must have our own LLMs that are independently developed and controlled by China, capable of benchmarking against the highest global standards and continuously narrowing the gap,” he said.

Some executives, including the CEO of Chinese search engine giant Baidu, Robin Li, have urged the AI industry to shift its focus away from the development of LLMs, which require massive amounts of computing power and AI chips, and instead prioritize the adoption of AI.

“Without applications, having only foundational models, whether open-source or closed-source, is worthless,” Li said at the conference.

(Reporting by Casey Hall in Shanghai and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Anil D’Silva)


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