Alibaba launches Tongyi Wanxiang, an AI image-generation tool to compete with OpenAI’s DALL-E & Midjourney

Chinese tech giant Alibaba on Friday announced the launch of its latest artificial intelligence (AI) tool called Tongyi Wanxiang. The tool is designed to generate images based on text prompts, putting it in direct competition with OpenAI’s DALL-E and Midjourney Inc’s Mid Journey.

Tongyi Wanxiang, launched by Alibaba’s cloud division, allows users to input text prompts in either Chinese or English, and the AI tool generates corresponding images in various styles, such as sketches or 3D cartoons. Currently, the tool is available for beta testing exclusively to enterprise customers in China.

Alibaba’s Tongyi Wanxiang represents the company’s latest venture into generative AI, joining other tech giants in China and the United States in the race to advance this technology. Generative AI refers to a type of artificial intelligence that can create content based on given prompts. This technology is trained using vast amounts of data, enabling it to generate relevant outputs. OpenAI’s ChatGPT is a well-known example of generative AI and has spurred major tech players to develop their own competing solutions.

The introduction of Tongyi Wanxiang follows other recent AI chatbot releases in the industry. Google launched its AI chatbot called Bard in the United States, while Baidu released Ernie Bot in China, and Alibaba introduced Tongyi Qianwen. The development and deployment of these AI chatbots highlight the growing interest and investment in AI technologies by major companies worldwide.

In a news release, CTO of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence Jingren Zhou said: “With the release of Tongyi Wanxiang, high-quality generative AI imagery will become more accessible, facilitating the development of innovative AI art and creative expressions for businesses across a wide range of sectors, including e-commerce, gaming, design, and advertising.”

In March 2023, Alibaba Cloud underwent a significant restructuring, dividing itself into six major units. This move came as China aimed to alleviate the impact of stringent regulatory measures and support its private enterprises. As part of this transformation, Alibaba launched Tongyi Qianwen, a text generator similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

Since its release on April 11, Tongyi Qianwen has garnered substantial interest, with over 200,000 beta testing requests received, primarily from companies in transportation, fashion, and fintech industries, according to Alibaba.

Meanwhile, various prominent Chinese tech companies are actively pursuing the development and release of AI products and services following the success of OpenAI’s ChatGPT. It is projected that generative AI technologies could contribute around $7.3 trillion to the global economy annually.

However, in light of regulatory concerns, tech giants are approaching the rollout of generative AI products with caution, aiming to avoid potential conflicts with authorities. Companies like Alibaba and Baidu have been particularly mindful of how they position their AI tools. For instance, Alibaba has emphasized targeting enterprise customers with its offerings.

This cautious approach by Chinese authorities is in response to the anticipation of generative AI technologies. In January, Beijing implemented unprecedented regulations that govern “deep synthesis technologies,” referring to images and videos altered by AI. Furthermore, in April, regulators released draft rules aimed at managing the development of generative AI products by companies.