China’s Answer to ChatGPT Gets an Artificial Debut and Disappoints

“China is incredibly good at scaling an existing invention, but it is not very good at making breakthroughs,” said Huang Yasheng, a professor of management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author of a coming book on Chinese innovation. The country, he argued, lacks the diversity of thought and free expression of ideas that help nurture out-of-the-box thinking.

Last month, the Chinese authorities suspended ChatYuan, one of the earliest chatbots in China, for providing, among other things, answers that challenged the Communist Party’s official stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Xu Chenggang, a senior research scholar at the Stanford Center on China’s Economy and Institutions, had a harsher assessment of Beijing’s efforts to build a better bot.

China’s chatbots “cannot approach the level of ChatGPT,” Mr. Xu said, because China’s strict censorship rules could undermine the quality of data and hamstring the development of chatbots.

“If there are restrictions everywhere in the setup of your algorithms, of course its ability will be restricted,” he said.

Chinese officials have also worked to temper expectations. Wang Zhigang, China’s minister of science and technology, used a soccer analogy this month to convey the work still left to do to compete with ChatGPT.

“Playing football involves dribbling and shooting, but it’s not easy to be as good as Messi,” he said, referring to the superstar Lionel Messi.

“Our country has also made a lot of arrangements and conducted research in this field for many years and has achieved some results,” he added. “However, it may still take some time to achieve the same level of performance as OpenAI.”


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