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ByteDance goes all in with AI for social media



ByteDance, owner of TikTok, is mobilizing resources for generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) projects as the Beijing-based tech giant redoubles its efforts to catch up with ChatGPT, OpenAI’s conversational bot, and Sora, a text-video generator. All this was reported by the SCMP.

Liang Rubo, who took over as CEO from co-founder Zhang Yiming in 2021, set three goals for ByteDance in relation to GenAI this quarter:

  • Strengthen AI talent recruitment,
  • improve the organizational structure
  • improve basic research,

ByteDance’s website lists more than 300 job openings related to GenAI, including more than 100 related to large language models (LLM), the technology used to train ChatGPT and similar chatbots.
The company recently hired Jiang Lu, who was a key contributor to Google’s VideoPoet, an LLM designed for video generation and unveiled late last year.

ByteDance is “secretly” working on several artificial intelligence products, including text-to-image and text-to-video technology, Chinese media outlet Jiemian reported Wednesday.
The team responsible for the video-editing app CapCut, run by Kelly Zhang Nan, a former CEO of the Douyin unit that oversees the Chinese version of TikTok, is also working confidentially on AI products.

A source close to ByteDance confirmed that people who play a major role in the company, including founder Zhang, see AI as a battle that ByteDance cannot afford to lose. It is an “all-in” mentality, the source said.

Although it embraced AI in content recommendation early on, ByteDance explored LLMs relatively late. The company launched its chatbots Doubao and Cici AI in the second half of last year, after rivals Baidu and Alibaba Group Holding had already launched their services in March and April.

After OpenAI launched the Sora video generator in mid-February, ByteDance said its in-house video motion control tool Boximator, designed to help generate videos, is still in its infancy and not ready for public release, but it is trying hard to catch up.

Founder Zhang, who has kept a low profile but still wields great influence over the company’s strategic direction, has devoted most of his energy to AI in the past year, Jiemian reported. The article echoes an earlier report in the mainland magazine China Entrepreneur that Zhang often reads OpenAI research papers late into the night.

In early February, executive Kelly Zhang stepped down from her role as CEO of Douyin to devote more time to CapCut, saying that “AI technology will fundamentally disrupt content creation and give rise to new content creation platforms.”
Alex Zhu, co-founder of the short video app that later merged with TikTok, and Zhu Wenjia, TikTok’s tech lead, also shifted their responsibilities to focus on AI.

A sense of urgency pervaded the company after CEO Liang chided employees in January for being too slow to react to the emergence of new technologies, such as GenAI. During an internal meeting, he said ByteDance employees did not talk about ChatGPT, which was released in November 2022, until the following year.

Globally, ByteDance is not the only technology company reevaluating its AI strategy. Apple CEO Tim Cook said Wednesday that the U.S. giant will release its plans by the end of the year on how it will use GenAI, after news emerged that the company is abandoning its automotive project to shift resources to AI and mixed reality.

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