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Chinese AI Unicorn 01.AI Claims to Rival Meta’s Llama 2

artificial intelligence

Chinese artificial intelligence (AI) startup 01.AI has reportedly reached unicorn status less than eight months after launching.

The company, founded by computer scientist and Google/Microsoft veteran Kai-Fu Lee, was valued at more than $1 billion on the strength of its open-source artificial intelligence (AI) model, Bloomberg News reported Monday (Nov. 6).

That model, the report added, dubbed Yi-34B, has apparently bested some of the top open-source models on the market, at least on some fronts, including Meta’s Llama 2.

“Llama 2 has been the gold standard and a big contribution to the open-source community,” Lee said in an interview with Bloomberg. “We want to provide a superior alternative not just for China but for the global market.”

As Bloomberg notes, China’s tech giants have been as enthusiastic about AI as their American counterparts. Baidu claims its Ernie large language model (LLM) can compete with OpenAI’s offerings, while Alibaba has invested in a number of AI firms, including 01.AI.

And while Chinese and American AI firms largely don’t compete as U.S. tech isn’t available in China, the situation has been complicated by tensions between the two countries.

For example, the White House last month banned the sale of AI chips designed by companies like Nvidia to China, saying the technology could be used to bolster the Chinese military.

Lee told Bloomberg the blockade was “regrettable” but said his company had stocked up on chips and began compiling a collection of semiconductors earlier this year, even though that meant borrowing money.

“We basically bet the farm and overspent our original bank account,” he said. “We felt we had to do this.”

According to Bloomberg, Lee has been working in the AI field for decades, penning two best-sellers dealing with the field.

“It’s the biggest breakthrough for humanity,” Lee said. “It’s also the final step to understanding ourselves.”

Still, he added that he often wondered if AI’s promise would be fulfilled within his lifetime until the latest generation of LLMs showed up.

These efforts are happening as regulators around the world try to get a handle on the rapid development of AI.

“Because of the rate and speed at which AI technology’s capabilities are evolving, the present moment represents an increasing time of urgency for businesses, governments and both international and intranational institutions to understand and support the benefits of AI while at the same time working to mitigate its risks,” PYMNTS wrote last week.