Jack Ma Bets Big on AI
By Ivan Dikalenko 131 19 Sept 2023
Billionaire and Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma seems to have mended fences with China's leadership. Following a three-year setback and a $1 billion penalty, Ma is now unveiling his two new AI ventures. The timing is certainly intriguing.
Jack Ma's comeback into the Chinese AI sector comes right after the nation's official rollout of guidelines for artificial intelligence.
Jack Ma: The Return of the Prodigal Son
In the autumn of 2020, Jack Ma had a pointed critique for China's IT regulators, accusing them of hindering innovation. He also had no qualms about calling out China's major state-owned banks, bluntly describing them as harboring a pawnshop mentality. The government didn't take this lightly. At that moment, Ma's fintech startup, Ant Group, was gearing up for an IPO — but authorities swiftly put a halt to it. Moreover, Ma was ordered to break up his tech titan, Alibaba, into six separate entities. Following these events, the billionaire seemed to exit the national stage.
For over a year, Ma remained conspicuously absent from the public spotlight. His sudden disappearance was the subject of much media speculation, with some even wondering if he was still alive. But this spring, he reemerged unexpectedly at an event in Hangzhou, alongside his Alibaba peers. Whispers suggest it wasn't just the business community calling for his return; an associate of Xi Jinping may have also played a role. Ma's reappearance was seen as a move to steady the private sector and symbolize a potential easing of regulatory constraints, a burden clearly felt beyond just Ma's companies.
Jack Ma and His Two AI Ventures
Returning to recent events, in mid-September, both of Ma's companies, Ant Group and Alibaba, announced almost in tandem their introduction of new and ambitious Large Language Models (LLMs).
The financial LLM introduced by Ant Group has evolved from their previously patented universal model. The prowess of this financial iteration encompasses areas like asset management, market insights, investor training, and a comprehensive set of insurance-related services.
Notable, Ant Group's financial LLM outperforms its predecessor in several facets, including autonomous learning, generative capabilities, depth of financial understanding, adept reasoning, and adhering to diverse specific norms and standards. The model's foundation is robust, built upon hundreds of billions of tokenized Chinese financial documents and general information tokens, as well as over half a billion guideline pages, detailing more than three hundred real-world industry scenarios. All these measures ensure that the new AI is adept at handling precise financial challenges, always prioritizing user benefit. Interestingly, in future pursuits, Ant Group envisions leveraging its LLM to cater to state-run financial entities—ironically, the very ones Ma previously dubbed as having a “pawnshop mentality.”
Ant Group has integrated the capabilities of its LLM into two distinct apps:
1. Zhixiaobao 2.0: This personal financial AI consultant is designed to evaluate a user's investment portfolio, analyze prevailing market conditions, strategize investment plans, and conduct deep, professional-level discussions about financial market nuances.
2. Zhixiaozhu 1.0: Aimed at expert financial professionals, this secondary business assistant caters primarily to banking personnel offering client services, investment advisors, and insurance representatives, among others.
Zhixiaozhu 1.0 specializes in investment analytics, data extraction from vast data sets, crafting specialized content, and adeptly using an array of financial instruments.
On a related note, Alibaba Group's cloud computing division has unveiled its language model, Tongyi Qianwen, suitable for both general and enterprise use. This move positions Alibaba in direct competition with tech giants such as Baidu and Tencent in the Chinese AI landscape. Notably, both these projects have received governmental approval for launching commercial chatbots. Interestingly, Tongyi Qianwen can be likened to the renowned bot, ChatGPT by OpenAI, which is restricted in China. Alibaba Cloud began beta-testing for Tongyi Qianwen in April. What's captivating is that this product's rollout phase coincided with Jack Ma's reappearance in China.
Additionally, media channels have referenced a letter from Alibaba Cloud's CEO, Eddie Wu Yongming, addressed to the company staff. It highlights that the Alibaba Group is now positioning artificial intelligence as a cornerstone of its strategic expansion.
It's transparent that such a direction for their tech initiatives was influenced by none other than their founder, Jack Ma. Someone who has managed to amass and maintain $25 billion amidst an autocratic system is unlikely to err in his judgments. However, only time will truly tell.