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Zhipu AI: The Rise of an AI Tiger Reaching for AGI

The only overview of Zhipu AI's technology, open-source efforts, partnerships, and future goals in English

Occasionally, we will return and update our series about GenAI Unicorns. Today, for the first time, we examine a Chinese startup. Though Zhipu AI is not a new company, recently it has started to pop up in the news more often due to its consistent model deliveries and updates, varied partnerships, everyone's belief that they are an OpenAI rival, and the fact that it recently became Generative AI unicorn with $2.5 billion valuation. The story of Zhipu AI – an academic startup and one of the four new AI tigers of China (along with Moonshot AI, Baichuan, and MiniMax) – is a fascinating examination of how things are done in China, and also about a special kind of startup started at the university and led by PhDs and professors.

Zhipu AI’s CEO is sure that by the end of the year, they will be on par with GPT-4 and very close to AGI. However true this is and whatever Zhipu AI offers, let’s learn together.

Table of Contents

How this AI tiger was born

In 2019, Zhipu.AI was established at Tsinghua University Science Park in Beijing, known as the "Center of the Universe" for tech startups. Founders Tang Jie and Li Juanzi, both professors at Tsinghua University's Department of Computer Science and Technology and active participants in the university's Knowledge Engineering Group (KEG), initially focused the company on building knowledge graphs to enhance research and innovation.

The early days of Zhipu AI in 2019 were challenging; as one of many academic startups without a clear business model, they struggled to secure initial investment. The administrative commission of Zhongguancun Science Park provided the team with rent-free office space for three months, which helped kickstart their development. But, in 2020 – before many others – in addition to their Knowledge Atlas business, they started to invest and develop the first large-model AI technologies, recognizing their potential. By September 2021, the company's shift in focus had paid off significantly with a major funding round, raising nearly $15 million from local venture capitalists.

The company's ethos is both academic and technologically idealistic. According to Zhang Peng, CEO of Zhipu AI and an alumnus of Tsinghua University, there is an internal saying: "No matter how much money we raise or how much money we make, it will be a hindrance on our road to AGI."

Currently, the company has more than 800 people, about 60 to 70% are related to research and development (R&D).

This is our journey to AGI (the mission)

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