China is on course for a ChatGPT reckoning and SoftBank backtracks on Asia tech
Asia Tech Review: 17 April 2023
Can you imagine that China will suddenly allow unfettered access to information online? How will the regime deal with the growth of ChatGPT services, assuming—of course—that they hit the high standards of OpenAI’s creation in the US? Chinese Big Tech is jumping on the trend with Alibaba, SenseTime and others joining Baidu in releasing their own versions.
Elsewhere, SoftBank is making an Asia tech retreat, Thailand is emerging as Apple’s latest manufacturing flight; Singapore doesn’t want to ask too many questions about big money flowing into its borders; India is exporting its payment system; and two fallen giants are tying up in a billion-dollar deal.
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Stories in Focus
China’s ChatGPT moment is coming…
SenseTime, the AI firm that develops video recognition and editing services, launched its own new AI products and chatbot based heavily on ChatGPT link
CEO and co-founder Xu Li showed a live demonstration of the chatbot they called "SenseChat" writing an email and telling a story about a cat catching a fish when prompted by questions, as well as scripting computer codes. The products were based off the latest version of the company's SenseNova big model, which they have been developing over the past five years, SenseTime's other co-founder Wang Xiaogang said. Big models are typically trained on massive datasets using powerful hardware.
Alibaba unveiled its own ChatGPT-like service and announced it will bring it into its products, starting with productivity service DingTalk and Tmall Genie link
In other AI-related news, ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing finally unveiled robotaxi concept car after years of development link
All the while—and exactly as you’d expect—China’s internet watchdog has proposed rules and a security assessment framework for AI tools similar to ChatGPT… link
This is absolutely because the idea of AI going around sharing information and data goes very much against how China manages (or has its companies self-manage) internet services. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out—back in the day, China clamped down hard on social media when it produced content (opinions and reporting) that it deemed to be dangerous, including reports of train crashes, rumours of coups etc. Real name verification and self-policing changed social media, but it isn’t clear how China can exert its hand on AI models like ChatGPT short of heavy-handed censorship.
Softbank is making somewhat of an Asia tech retreat with a few moves announced last week
Firstly, it plans to sell SoftBank Ventures Asia—which does a lot of early stage deals but is nothing like as noisy as its Vision Fund—to an entity led by Singapore-based Mistletoe founder Taizo Son, yep he’s the younger brother of SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son link
It has also moved to sell most of its Alibaba stake—the epic investment it made back in the day link
Broader plans to sell off its $36B valued China-based portfolio saw shares in Alibaba, JD Logistics and others slide on a lack of confidence link
The China exit is quite surreal.
ByteDance continues to push hard on VR
We wrote last month how ByteDance’s Pico VR unit is growing fast and now it is going after Meta’s lunch by offering to pay those building software for Meta’s VR platform to bring their apps to its headsets. Reportedly, the sums offered are $15,000 to $25,000 per title, so not dissimilar to regular developer grants for building software on specific platforms link
TikTok is said to be struggling to sign up US merchants for its shopping service because not only are they worried about the potential for the app to banned in the country, but the general trend is to expand into brick and mortar retail rather than expand their online reach link
Beyond TikTok, the US has accused shopping apps including Shein and Temu (belonging to PinDuoDuo) of data risks in latest action targeting Chinese-backed apps link
Temu reach 19M downloads in the first quarter of 2023 link
Cybercriminals posing as members of China’s government are targeting Chinese nationals based in the US, according to the FBI link
Ukraine’s anti-corruption watchdog put listed a dozen Chinese executives that continue to do business in Russia, including Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun, on a list of “international war sponsors” link
SCMP looks at how EV maker BYD grew from Elon Musk’s ridicule into Berkshire Hathaway’s ‘ridiculous’ US$98b success over 12 years—expect to see a lot more with BYD growing like a weed in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia link
China’s Bitget unveiled a $100M venture fund with focus on Asia link
Hong Kong’s ZA Bank wants to be the go-to bank for crypto startups link
TSMC, the world’s biggest contract chip seller, missed its sales target for the second quarter in a row—March sales were down 15% year-on-year due to continued weak demand for components link
By contrast, US purchases of machines to make computer chips from Taiwan rose to a record in March, as the Biden administration works to reinvigorate the domestic semiconductor industry—while exports to China plummeted 33.7%, marking the ninth straight month of decline. link
Apple is reportedly in talks with suppliers to make MacBooks in Thailand—the company has quietly been making its Apple Watch in the country for the last year link
Singapore has asked the world’s biggest banks to avoid discussing the origins of the significant sums of money flowing into the city over the past year, as wealthy Chinese funnel billions into the Asian financial hub. (This account is, however, disputed by Singapore) link
It doesn’t look good for Zipmex, after its rescue investor changed its plan to paying just 10 to 20 cents on the dollar to credits rather than the full amount link
Indonesia-based cloud kitchen startup Legit Group raised $13.7M to expand across the country beyond Jakarta link
Vietnamese edtech MindX, which specialises in coding and tech talent, raised $15M link
How citizen-run organisation Mafindo uses tools to combat misinformation and elevate media literacy in Indonesia link
A look at World Startup Convention: The Indian start-up gala that exploded into a scandal link
James Murdoch’s venture fund Bodhi Tree dropped its planned investment in Viacom18 from $1.78B to $528M link
Meanwhile, Comcast invested $200M in Murdoch’s venture to gain a foothold in Indian media link
India’s smartphone exports have more than doubled over the last year to reach over $11B in March—beating even the government’s own target whilst increasing non-Chinese shipment link
Smartphone exports of $11.2 billion surpasses New Delhi’s target of $9-10 billion even as Chinese smartphone makers, who commanded over two-thirds of all local shipment in India just two years ago, contributed little to the exports. Apple made up almost half of the total exports, with an estimated $5 billion to $5.5 billion, as per industry analysts. Samsung Electronics, the South Korean giant, ranked second with about $4 billion.
India is betting big on exporting its digital payments system (UPI) after tie-ups with countries in Africa and Southeast Asia that are seeking digital sovereignty link
A look at the clutch of online fashion retailers trying to build ‘India’s Shein’ to target young shoppers link
Three public policy executives of the India team of Samsung Electronics have resigned in simultaneous departures as the country's biggest smartphone player faces several regulatory headaches link
Game maker MPL’s development unit Mayhem Studios raised $20M from Sequoia, Steadview, Truecaller (yes, the call screening app!) and others link
General Atlantic invested another $100M into PhonePe just three months after leading a $350M investment—the latest cheque is part of an ongoing round aimed at $750M link
Indian startups are going to court to stop Google's new in-app billing system link
In a tale of two former giants, Sega—yep, once the famous gaming giant—is closing on a deal to buy Rovio—the European firm behind the once red hot Angry Birds franchise—for $1B after gazumping a rival bid link
South Korea’s crypto scene is emerging from the devastating shadow of Terra’s multi-billion dollar downfall link
South Korea fined Google $32M for blocking release of games on competing platforms link
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