April 16, 2024

Kai-Fu Lee, the pc scientist recognized within the West for his bestseller AI Superpowers and in China for his bets on synthetic intelligence unicorns, has a brand new firm – and massive ambitions.

In late March, Lee based an organization referred to as 01.AI with the imaginative and prescient of constructing a homegrown large-scale language mannequin for the Chinese language market. The corporate places him in competitors with different outstanding Chinese language tech leaders, together with Sogou’s founder Wang Xiaochuan, who’ve rapidly gathered expertise and enterprise capital to ascertain China’s equal of OpenAI.

“I believe necessity is the mom of innovation, and there may be clearly an excellent want in China,” Lee, who’s 61 and leads 01.AI as CEO, stated in an interview with TechCrunch, explaining the motive for founding it the corporate. “In contrast to the remainder of the world, China doesn’t have entry to OpenAI and Google as a result of these two firms haven’t made their merchandise accessible in China. So I believe numerous LLM graduates are attempting to do their half in growing an answer for a market. “It actually wants that.”

The expansion of 01.AI appropriately displays the speedy improvement within the subject of generative AI. Seven months after its founding, the startup launched its first mannequin, the open supply Yi-34B. The choice to launch an open LLM as a debut product is a approach to “give one thing again” to society, Lee stated. For individuals who felt that LLaMA was a “godsend,” “we now have offered a compelling different,” he added.

On the time of writing, Yi-34B, a bilingual (English and Chinese language) base mannequin educated with 34 billion parameters and considerably smaller than different open fashions similar to Falcon-180B and Meta LlaMa2-70B, ranked first amongst pre-trained LLMs fashions, based on a rating by Hugging Face.

“We nonetheless imagine that bigger fashions, when educated properly on a considerable amount of high-quality knowledge, will all the time considerably outperform smaller fashions of comparable high quality and comparable know-how, I believe.” [Yi-34B] Outperforming a lot bigger fashions is one thing we don’t usually see,” Lee stated. “We’re fairly assured that we’ll be bringing 100 to 400 billion fashions to market over the following 12 months and a half. These fashions will likely be considerably higher than the present mannequin we introduced.”

The startup’s skill to rapidly start mannequin coaching is undoubtedly the results of its seamless fundraising, which is important to securing top-notch expertise and AI processors. Whereas Lee wouldn’t disclose how a lot 01.AI has raised, he stated the corporate is valued at $1 billion after receiving funding from Sinovation Ventures, Alibaba Cloud and different unnamed traders.

01.AI has already grown to greater than 100 workers, greater than half of whom are LLM consultants from giant multinational and Chinese language know-how firms. For instance, its vp of know-how is an early member of Google’s Bard, and its chief architect was a founding member of TensorFlow and labored with famend researchers similar to Jeff Dean and Samy Bengio at Google Mind. The important thing figures behind Yi-34B are Wenhao Huang, a veteran of Microsoft Analysis Asia, and Ethan Dai, who held senior AI positions at Huawei and Alibaba.

With the backing of over ten unicorns and the founding of seven firms by Sinovation Ventures, Lee is probably probably the most well-connected traders and entrepreneurs in China.

“It’s been greater than 25 years since I based Microsoft Analysis Asia, and every little thing I’ve accomplished has been about attracting nice expertise,” stated Lee, of Microsoft Analysis Asia, the US big’s largest analysis middle overseas. earlier than main Google China. Through the years, Microsoft Analysis Asia has earned a fame because the “West Level” for nurturing China’s AI entrepreneurs.

“After all you need to pay folks pretty, and you need to be aggressive with pay, however I actually assume it’s additionally about folks believing that they’ll make a distinction and that the corporate might be profitable,” Lee stated throughout an look on a video name at 9:30 p.m. Beijing time. His workers had been equally self-motivating. One of many startup’s infrastructure consultants labored till the wee hours of the morning that day and nonetheless texted Lee at 2:15 a.m. to precise his pleasure about being a part of 01.AI’s mission.

It’s no secret that pursuing LLMs is an costly endeavor. To keep up its cash-intensive operations, 01.AI has monetization plans in place for the reason that starting. Whereas the corporate will proceed to open supply a few of its fashions, its purpose is to develop a cutting-edge proprietary mannequin that may function the muse for a various vary of business merchandise.

“We will’t open supply every little thing,” Lee stated. “We had been conscious of the truth that these giant language fashions require numerous computing energy and are subsequently very costly. If we elevate some huge cash, most of it is going to be spent on the GPU. With that in thoughts, our first step was to get as a lot GPU as doable, which we did.”

Like different LLM gamers in China, 01.AI has proactively stockpiled GPUs in anticipation of US sanctions; It borrowed cash to purchase processors even earlier than it obtained financing. Final 12 months, the Biden administration tightened restrictions on China’s entry to high-quality AI chips, prompting Chinese language firms to pay inflated costs for chips. The foresight was rewarded – 01.AI now has a provide that may final for at the least the following 12-18 months.

Except for inflicting complications for Chinese language firms, the US sanctions have additionally been a catalyst for innovation by encouraging them to optimize the usage of computing energy. “With a really high-quality infrastructure staff, we will probably get 2,000 GPUs value of workload out of each 1,000 GPUs,” Lee stated.

01.AI’s path to monetization largely depends upon its skill to discover a product-market match for its costly AI fashions. Whereas there’s a scarcity of prime LLM scientists, there is no such thing as a scarcity of product expertise in China.

“China is just not forward of the US in LLM, however there is no such thing as a doubt that China can develop higher functions than American builders, largely because of the phenomenal cell Web ecosystem that has been constructed over the past 12 years or so,” Lee argued.

Whereas the founder didn’t present any particulars in regards to the companies within the pipeline, he hinted that the corporate is experimenting with ideas in productiveness and social and he can be “disenchanted” if 01.AI doesn’t launch an app this calendar 12 months.

The startup’s final purpose, based on Lee, is to turn into an ecosystem the place exterior builders can simply construct functions. “The obligation is just not solely to advance good analysis fashions, however extra importantly to simplify software improvement in order that there might be compelling functions,” he stated. “On the finish of the day. It’s an ecosystem recreation.” Time will inform whether or not Lee’s AI efforts will repay.