Artificial Intelligence needs open-source models to reach its potential | Mint

Artificial Intelligence needs open-source models to reach its potential

Embracing openness democratizes generative AI. (Stock Image)
Embracing openness democratizes generative AI. (Stock Image)


Without a commitment to openness, a privileged elite will enjoy the lion’s share of the benefits.

Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press revolutionized life in the 15th century, making it possible for ideas to travel around the world at previously unimaginable speeds and creating huge gains for mankind. Gutenberg tried to keep his technique a secret, but a disgruntled former investor, Johann Fust, soon replicated his device. Fust launched his own press and poached Gutenberg’s top techie, Peter Schoeffer.

It was lucky for the rest of us that he did. Imagine if the printing press had been kept secret and controlled by one company, or confined within one nation. Centuries of human progress might never have happened. It’s an imperfect analogy, but it offers a useful way to frame the current debate around artificial intelligence.

Generative AI, which is artificial intelligence capable of producing text, images and other media, will revolutionize life in the 21st century. It will be much more disruptive than the printing press. Generative AI’s ability to digest nearly the entire breadth of human knowledge by training large-language-model algorithms with hundreds of billions of parameters allows it to write, draw, reason and solve problems. These potent new tools will amplify the power of knowledge workers.

The printing press accelerated the spread of knowledge. Generative AI will accelerate the creation of knowledge. It can understand, explain and create ideas and content at speeds unfathomable by humans. Generative AI will improve productivity and generate untold economic value. It will help entrepreneurs make fortunes and, more important, transform lives. I can say from my four decades of involvement in AI—first as an academic, then working with Microsoft and Google, and later as a venture capitalist—that generative AI will unleash the greatest technology revolution ever.

But we can’t keep this power locked away for only the privileged elite. Given the massive technological paradigm shifts that are coming, it will be necessary for people from all backgrounds to understand and have access to the technology. It is crucial that no one be left out. This is why I decided to launch 01.AI, a startup building foundational large language models, which are the building blocks of generative AI. We launched our first language model, Yi-34B, with 34 billion parameters. Anyone can engage with, enhance and tailor our model and its source code, which is available on GitHub.

While the Yi-34B model’s manageable size makes it ideal for researchers, entrepreneurs and smaller companies, OpenAI and Google have kept their larger and better models proprietary. I am not suggesting that every model should be open. But I hope every technology company will embrace and contribute to the open-source community, even as they maintain their business and profit goals.

A technology giant could open-source a smaller model while keeping larger models proprietary. This is 01.AI’s intention. This openness will make models accessible to researchers, educators, students, entrepreneurs, hobbyists and nonprofits. This inclusiveness is critical, because many communities can’t afford to use the more expensive proprietary models. Embracing openness democratizes generative AI.

Thwarting the spread of generative AI by keeping it proprietary leaves some groups marginalized as successful companies put their tools in black boxes. The best generative AI models were mostly trained on American and English data. While they are functionally multilingual, they perform poorly when using languages that are less prominent on the internet. Users from smaller or poorer nations are provided a much inferior experience. They don’t have the resources to generate and collect giant repositories of data in their languages or the technological know-how to develop high-quality native language models. The generative AI revolution is leaving them behind.

There’s also an American bias in the dominant proprietary models. Because of how they were trained, these models reflect the culture and values of the U.S., which may not suit other places. What one country sees as the norm may be offensive or even illegal in another. There are huge differences between the U.S. and Europe, never mind between the West and the rest of the world. A universal model can’t possibly fit every country’s needs. Each country should have a high-quality model that is tailored to its culture, values, religion and language.

Some in the media have described 01.AI as China’s answer to OpenAI, the developer behind ChatGPT. We see ourselves as the more “open" answer to OpenAI. In our view, the key competition isn’t China vs. the U.S. Rather, it’s open vs. closed systems. Even with only modest resources, we are determined to develop high-quality models for more languages to make this technology accessible to more people globally. We don’t want AI to leave anyone behind.

As a technology optimist, I firmly believe that artificial intelligence will advance the human race, amplifying our humanity rather than replacing it. But that can be accomplished only if we remain committed to the virtue of openness.

Mr. Lee is CEO of 01.AI and chairman of Sinovation Ventures.

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