April 19, 2024

Beijing-based artificial intelligence (AI) startup 01.AI is raising $200 million in a new funding round. This comes on the heels of the company hitting a $1 billion valuation last month thanks to surging global interest in open-source artificial intelligence models.

01.AI is one of several Chinese startups that plan to open their large language models to public use. It is following similar moves by larger firms Meta and Alibaba, scrambling to gain users and catch up with market leader OpenAI.

Fast Growth for 01.AI

A source revealed that 01.AI, officially launched in July by Lee Kai-fu after a three-month incubation period, reached a $1 billion valuation in early November. The latest Reuters report disclosed the company is now seeking additional investments from U.S. dollar-based investors.

01.AI gained recognition in the open-source large language model (LLM) community last month. Its Yi-34B model became the first Chinese LLM to top the leaderboard on the Hugging Face platform. This platform allows tech firms to share LLMs which then get rated on performance and popularity.

The hype around generative artificial intelligence has helped such startups raise significant funds after promising to make their artificial intelligence models open-source. For example, Chinese media reports that Zhipu AI, founded in 2019, now has a valuation above $1 billion. 

Eight-month-old Baichuan Technology also attained a $1.2 billion valuation after its October fundraising, according to a third source. Being an open-source LLM, 01.AI aims to key into the hype to raise additional funds to boost its development. 

Debating Open-Sourcing AI Models

The movement to open-source LLMs has drawn some criticism. The maker of the popular Chatbot ChatGPT, OpenAI, has kept its model codes private. It cited risks of abuse by bad actors that could endanger society.

However, in China, tech giant Alibaba’s cloud division has been active in open-sourcing its LLMs.

Its latest LLM, Qwen-72B, recently topped Huggingface’s leaderboard. It is the second Chinese model to do so after 01. AI’s Yi-34B. With 8 open-sourced AI models in 4 months, Alibaba states that Qwen-72B can outperform OpenAI’s flagship GPT4 in handling Chinese based on certain benchmarks.

Alibaba Cloud CTO Jingren Zhou said building an open-source ecosystem is critical for developing LLM and artificial intelligence applications. He added that demand for artificial intelligence applications is growing exponentially across industries.

By making its models accessible to all, Alibaba Cloud aspires to become the most open cloud provider.

The tech giant is also supporting smaller open-source AI startups like 01. AI. The two companies are collaborating on model training, deployment, and other processes. Alibaba Cloud has also committed funding in 01. AI’s current fundraising round, according to the sources.

The ongoing debate around the open-sourcing of AI models adds another layer of complexity to the journey. However, 01. AI’s potential success in securing additional investments could mark a significant milestone. 

Also, 01. AI’s strategy signals meaningful strides that could further elevate China’s prowess as a leader in this emerging AI technology.

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