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  • Tom Jowitt

China Restricts Access To ChatGPT, But Praises AI Potential

Chinese tech firms instructed to cut access to US-based ChatGPT, as state media outlets accuse it of spreading US ‘misinformation’

Authorities in Beijing are reportedly seeking to restrict the use of ChatGPT in mainland China, over propaganda concerns.

Asia Nikkei reported this week that regulators have instructed major Chinese tech companies not to offer ChatGPT services to the general public, amid growing alarm in Beijing over the uncensored replies to user queries from the AI-powered chatbot.

China clampdown

This comes despite the fact that Chinese tech firms and universities are pushing forward with developing domestic artificial intelligence bots, amid huge interest in the technology.

Indeed Chinese firms are said to be rushing to integrate the technology into their products and launch rival solutions

Search engine giant Baidu for example plans to soon launch a Chinese rival to ChatGPT called ErnieBot.

ChatGPT is the Microsoft backed AI discussion bot created by US-based OpenAI, and it is not officially available in China, where the government operates the ‘great firewall’ and strict internet censorship.

That said it has been accessed by many people in China via the use of VPNs, and some third-party developers had even produced programs that gave access to the service.

But Chinese tech firms have now been ordered to remove workarounds allowing access to the US-based service.

It comes after Chinese state media touted the dangers of ChatGPT as a potential tool for the US to “spread false information”.

For example a China Daily article said that questions put to ChatGPT about Xinjiang always returned answers “consistent with the political propaganda of the US government that there is so-called ‘genocide’.”

#ChatGPT can potentially amplify US disinformation campaign. An expert points out only few articles can influence the output of ChatGPT on specific questions. #MediaUnlocked — China Daily (@ChinaDaily) February 20, 2023

The South China Morning Post meanwhile reported that searches for ChatGPT on Chinese platforms no longer returned results, while workaround programs had been disabled or replaced with a notice saying they had been suspended for “violating relevant laws and regulations”.

AI potential

Despite Beijing’s decision to restrict access to ChatGPT, some in China have said they see the potential of ChatGPT-like technology.

Reuters quoted China’s Ministry of Science and Technology as saying on Friday that it saw the potential of ChatGPT-like tech and would be pushing for the integration of artificial intelligence into Chinese society and the economy.

“(This technology) has the potential to be applied in many industries and fields,” Chen Jiachang, who heads the ministry’s high-tech department, reportedly told a news briefing, praising its natural language processing capabilities.

Minister Wang Zhigang also reportedly told the same briefing that from an ethics standpoint, technologies like ChatGPT should not be limited too much so they can be developed effectively, though he cautioned that all technological achievements have “two sides”.

Chinese firms such as Tencent Holdings and Ant Group (the fintech affiliate of Alibaba Group), were instructed not to offer access to ChatGPT services on their platforms, either directly or via third parties, people with direct knowledge of the matter told Nikkei Asia.

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