ChatGPT, Bard, Claude. The world’s most popular and successful chatbots are trained with data drawn from vast areas of the Internet, reflecting the cultural and linguistic dominance of the English language and Western perspectives. This has raised alarm bells about the lack of diversity in artificial intelligence. There are also concerns that the technology remains the property of a handful of American companies.

In South Korea, a technological powerhouse, companies are taking advantage of the malleability of technology to shape AI systems from the ground up to address local needs. Some have trained AI models with data sets rich in Korean language and culture. South Korean companies say they are creating artificial intelligence for Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian audiences. Others are looking at clients in Brazil, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines, and in industries such as medicine and pharmacy.

This has fueled hopes that AI could become more diverse, working in more languages, adapting to more cultures and being developed by more countries.

“The more competition there is, the more robust systems are: socially acceptable, more secure, more ethical,” said Byong-Tak Zhang, a computer science professor at Seoul National University.

While there are some prominent non-US AI companies, such as France’s Mistral, the recent turmoil at OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, has highlighted how concentrated the industry remains.

The emerging AI landscape in South Korea is one of the most competitive and diverse in the world, said Yong Lim, a law professor at Seoul National University who heads its AI Policy Initiative. The country’s export-driven economy has encouraged startups to look for ways to tailor AI systems to specific companies or countries.

South Korea is well positioned to develop AI technology, developers say, as it has one of the most connected populations in the world to generate large amounts of data to train AI systems. Its technological giants have the resources to invest large amounts in research. The government has also been encouraging: It has provided companies with money and data that could be used to train large language models, the technology that powers AI chatbots.

Few countries have the combination of capital and technology needed to develop a large language model that can power a chatbot, experts say. They estimate that building a fundamental model, the technology that underpins AI chatbots, costs between $100 million and $200 million.

South Korea is still months behind the United States in the AI ​​race and may never fully catch up, as leading chatbots continue to improve with more resources and data.

But South Korean companies believe they can compete. Instead of going after the global market like their American competitors, companies like Naver and LG have tried to target their AI models at specific industries, cultures or languages ​​instead of tapping into the entire Internet.

“The localized strategy is a reasonable strategy for them,” said Sukwoong Choi, an information systems professor at the University at Albany. “American companies focus on general-purpose tools. “South Korean AI companies can target a specific area.”

Outside the United States, AI prowess appears limited in scope. In China, Baidu’s answer to ChatGPT, called Ernie, and Huawei’s large language model have had some success at home, but are far from dominating the global market. Governments and companies in other countries such as Canada, Britain, India and Israel have also said they are developing their own artificial intelligence systems, although none have yet released a system that can be used by the public.

About a year before the launch of ChatGPT, Naver, which operates South Korea’s most used search engine, announced that it had successfully created a large language model. But the chatbot based on that model, Clova Septemberalmost a year after ChatGPT debuted.

Nako Sung, a Naver executive who led the company’s generative AI project, said the timing of ChatGPT’s release surprised him.

“Until that point, we were taking a conservative approach toward AI services and just cautiously exploring the possibilities,” Sung said. “Then we realized that the schedule had sped up a lot,” she added. “We decided we had to move right away.”

Now, Naver runs an AI model built from scratch for Korean language speakers using data from the South Korean government and its search engine, which has crawled the country’s Internet since 1999.

Clova Naver’s chatbot is also integrated into the search engine, allowing people to use the tool for shopping and travel.

Outside its home market, the company is exploring business opportunities with the government of Saudi Arabia. Japan could be another potential customer, experts said, as Line, a courier service owned by Naver, is widely used there.

LG has also created its own generative AI model, the type of artificial intelligence capable of creating original content from inputs, called Exaone. Since its inception in 2021, LG has worked with publishers, research centers, pharmaceutical companies, and medical companies to adapt its system to their data sets and provide them with access to its artificial intelligence system.

The company is targeting businesses and researchers rather than the general user, said Kyunghoon Bae, director of LG AI Research. Its subsidiaries have also started using their own AI chatbots. One of the chatbots, created to analyze chemical research and chemical equations, has been used by researchers building new materials for batteries, chemicals and medicines.

“Rather than letting one or two best AI systems dominate, it is important to have a series of models specific to a domain, language or culture,” said Honglak Lee, chief scientist of LG’s AI research arm.

Another South Korean giant, Samsung, last month announced Samsung Gauss, a generative AI model used internally to compose emails, summarize documents and translate texts. The company plans to integrate it into its mobile phones and smart home appliances.

Other major companies have also said they are developing their own large language models, making South Korea one of the few countries with so many companies building artificial intelligence systems. KT, a South Korean telecommunications company, has said it is working with its Thai counterpart, Jasmine Group, on a large language model specializing in the Thai language. Kakao, which creates an eponymous super app for chats, has said it is developing Generative AI for Korean, English, Japanese, Vietnamese and Malay.

Still, America’s dominance in AI appears secure for now. It remains to be seen to what extent countries can catch up.

“The market is convulsing; “It is very difficult to predict what is going to happen,” said Lim, an AI policy expert. “It’s the Wild West, in a sense.”

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