Microsoft-backed OpenAI has kept its hit ChatGPT app off-limits to users in China, but the app is attracting huge interest in the country, with firms rushing to integrate the technology into their products and launch rival solutions.
While residents in the country are unable to create OpenAI accounts to access the artificial intelligence-powered (AI) chatbot, virtual private networks and foreign phone numbers are helping some bypass those restrictions.
At the same time, the OpenAI models behind the ChatGPT programme, which can write essays, recipes and complex computer code, are relatively accessible in China and increasingly being incorporated into Chinese consumer technology applications from social networks to online shopping.
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The tool’s surging popularity is rapidly raising awareness in China about how advanced US AI is and, according to analysts, just how far behind tech firms in the world’s second-largest economy are as they scramble to catch up.
“There is huge excitement around ChatGPT. Unlike the metaverse which faces huge difficulty in finding real-life application, ChatGPT has suddenly helped us achieve human-computer interaction,” said Ding Daoshi, director of Beijing-based internet consultancy Sootoo. “The changes it will bring about are more immediate, more direct and way quicker.”