ByteDance Gathers Multiple Executives to Increase AI R&D

Tech Planet exclusively learned that several departments under ByteDance have increased investment in the research and development of AI products, with results being successively achieved. This includes the Douyin e-commerce department, as well as the Ocean Engine and other business departments. Among them, the Flow department has taken significant actions by not only launching AI products such as “Dou Bao” and “Coze” but also planning to release an AI character interactive app called “Hualu” and a possible image-related AI product named “PicPic”.

According to sources, the monthly active users of “Dou Bao” reached 2 million in December last year. By January 2024, this number doubled. Tech Planet has verified the data with ByteDance, but there has been no response from them yet.

ByteDance’s Vice President of Product and Strategy, Zhu Jun, is responsible for the product line of the Flow department.

In terms of the progress in AI research, ByteDance, also known as the “Super App Factory,” is not considered fast. Since ChatGPT became popular worldwide in 2022, domestic internet companies have been eager to try it out and successively invested in research on large models, AI, and other aspects. Companies like Alibaba and Baidu launched their own self-developed large model products at the beginning of 2023. Slower companies like Tencent and Kuaishou have also introduced their own large model products.

At the annual all-staff meeting in January 2024, ByteDance CEO Liang Rubo also mentioned that the company did not start discussing GPT until 2023, while other large-scale model startups in the industry were founded between 2018 and 2021.

Although it may seem a bit slow, looking back now, as a latecomer in the field of AI, ByteDance’s AI Dream Factory has now begun to take shape and is starting to concentrate its efforts on catching up with leading domestic companies.

Concentrate internal resources to vigorously develop AI.

In January 2023, ByteDance established its first large-scale model team. The language large model team is led by the Byte Search Department, with a current team size of around a dozen people. The image large model team is led by the Intelligent Creation Team under the Product R&D and Engineering Architecture Department, and has drawn support from some personnel from the Search Business Department, AI Lab, and Application Machine Learning Team to assist the language large model. Additionally, Zhu Wenjia, who was previously responsible for TikTok technology in Singapore, has been called back to China to serve as the business leader of the team.

In early May 2023, “Chinese Entrepreneur” magazine revealed that Zhang Yiming, the founder of ByteDance, was busy studying a series of papers from OpenAI and often read until late at night. “He wants to figure out what exactly happened on the other side of the Pacific Ocean,” said a person close to him.

By mid-2023, ByteDance has stepped up its efforts in this business by mobilizing some technical and management executives to accelerate the construction of a mature large model system, aiming to gain the initiative more quickly in the “battle of large models” competition. The heads of some business lines have successively transferred to the large model team, including Lu You, head of Douyin’s social responsibility. At this time, ByteDance’s research and development on large models has also entered deep waters, and soon launched its self-developed “Yunque Large Language Model,” becoming a key product for ByteDance to build large models.

Based on the “Yunque Large Language Model,” ByteDance has started testing multiple AI products and services, such as My AI in Feishu, as well as an AI dialogue test project codenamed Grace. An employee of ByteDance who had participated in the Grace project told Tech Planet, “Internally, this project is highly valued because it may evolve into Douyin’s first AI product. Therefore, everyone was working overtime to perfect this product at that time.”

In August of the same year, the project codenamed Grace officially unveiled its mysterious veil and was named “Dou Bao”, giving ByteDance a product that can truly compete with Baidu‘s “ERNIE Bot” and Alibaba‘s “Qwen-VL” in the same category.

By the second half of 2023, ByteDance began integrating its previous large model team and other business units to establish the Flow department, which also became ByteDance’s vanguard in AI technology research and product development. Flow drew on internal senior management and business backbone to serve as the respective leaders of this department. In addition to Zhu Wenjia and Zhu Jun mentioned above, Hong Dingkun, Vice President of Technology at ByteDance, serves as the technical leader of this department, with three-party collaboration advancing AI progress. Recently, Qi Junyuan, Vice President of Feishu products has also transferred to Flow.

After the establishment of Flow, it has multiple product teams under its jurisdiction. For example, the AI application platform “Coze” recently launched in China and Coze overseas are created by the Bot Studio team. The product teams for “Dou Bao” and overseas “Cici” have reached around 50 people, with an additional ten or so responsible for developing the overseas product “Cici.” An insider revealed that there is a lot of collaboration between various business units within Flow, but they are also short-staffed. Since November last year, Flow has been opening up a large number of positions to absorb personnel from other business departments through internal transfers.

But ByteDance is not the only department working on AI. Both senior management and employees are very optimistic about AI. Recently, Zhang Nan announced his resignation as CEO of Douyin Group and shifted her focus to CapCut. Insiders close to CapCut revealed that over the past year, Zhang Nan has devoted most of her energy to CapCut-related business and personally led the team in seeking breakthroughs in AI-assisted creation, preparing to launch a product for AI-generated images and videos. In her personal WeChat Moments, Zhang Nan stated that 2024 marks her tenth year with the company and she hopes to pursue some passions in the next decade, growing along with this era of AI.

SEE ALSO: Zhang Nan Resigns as CEO of Douyin Group to Focus on ByteDance’s CapCut

Surprisingly, Da Li Education, which has been silent for nearly 3 years, has also begun to take frequent actions in the field of AI. Since last year, senior executives of Da Li Education have been trying to explore the use of AI in education and applying it to some existing products to achieve product intelligence. Recently, related AI products have been launched quietly, with an independent app called “Hippo Love Learning” targeting teenagers as an AI learning tool. In addition, Da Li Education’s overseas photo-based homework help product “Gauthmath” has also transformed into an AI homework assistant.

ByteDance has multiple AI teams racing. Han Shangyou, head of Douyin, and Liu Xiaobing, head of commercial product technology at ByteDance, also lead the project team to research the possible combination of AI with Douyin and commercial products. At the end of 2023, some elite members were transferred out and a new team specializing in AI applications was established in Shanghai.

In addition, Douyin e-commerce, Douyin life services, Volcano Engine, Ocean Engine, Juejin, and other business departments have also more or less begun to explore in the field of AI.

From super app factory to super AI factory.

Daniel Zhang, the then CEO of Alibaba, once believed that in the era of AI, all products deserve to be upgraded with large models. Looking at it now, this is indeed the case. Domestic internet platforms continuously apply AI to their core businesses and accelerate the launch of new AI products on traditional tracks.

ByteDance is no exception. Its AI products are mainly developed by Flow, and other business departments will also independently launch products suitable for their own business development. Currently, more than ten AI products have been launched both domestically and internationally.

In China, Flow has adopted a ‘making dumplings’ style of product development. In addition to products like Dou Bao and Coze that have already been launched, there are two AI products in internal testing and development stages called “Hualu” and “PicPic”, which will be launched at the right time.

In the “Hualu”, users can chat and create stories with AI intelligences, and have interactive experiences. The “Hualu” also supports users in creating AI virtual characters and story creation. By setting character attributes, names, voices, etc., a brand new intelligence can be created.

Another new AI product from ByteDance, PicPic, is about to be launched by Flow. It may be a product related to intelligent image creation. As it is still in the internal research and development stage, it will take some time before its full picture can be known.

Flow’s Dou Bao, with the help of channels such as Douyin for promotion, had reached 2 million monthly active users in December last year, and doubled to 4 million in January this year.

ByteDance’s AI products are making efforts, and some core and important business services have been launched online.

Since the second half of last year, Douyin has applied AI to search, social networking, and content creation. It has launched AI search feature “AI Search”, AI emotional chatbot “Douyin Xiaoqing”, as well as AI creative functions. Some key businesses have also introduced AI services, such as Ocean Engine creating a product for e-commerce content creation called “Jichuang”, and Jianying creating an AIGC image creation product called “Dreamina”.

Also, from the ByteDance’s official recruitment website, it can be seen that Douyin e-commerce and Douyin lifestyle services are recruiting positions such as intelligent creative product managers, and may launch related AI products.

ByteDance’s AI products are not only flourishing domestically, but also constantly launching AI products overseas. Different from domestic AI products, ByteDance’s overseas AI products are based on third-party large models created abroad. Currently, ByteDance has successively launched the AI tool collection “ChitChop,” the AI chatbot “Cici,” the AI application development platform “Coze,” and the interactive product “BagelBell” overseas. After its launch, Cici once ranked first in the overall rankings of Google Play in Argentina and Peru shortly after its launch, while hovering around the top 10 positions in the Philippines and Indonesia, quickly capturing emerging markets.

Can the AI super factory of ByteDance succeed?

AI is gradually infiltrating ByteDance’s product line, accelerating the absorption of feedback from end users, promoting the optimization of product performance and business, enhancing the adaptability in different scenarios. At the same time, the restructured product line is also expected to enhance the competitive barriers of basic business.

For example, Douyin can automatically generate wonderful video editing and special effects through AI technology. It can also use AI intelligent recommendations to bring orders for e-commerce and local life. This not only brings a more intelligent, personalized, and efficient experience but also increases user retention and satisfaction while achieving new revenue growth.

In addition, the overseas expansion of AI products will help ByteDance further expand its share in the global market. Some of ByteDance’s overseas products such as Resso and Lemon8 have already achieved significant performance worldwide. If these AI products going abroad are operated properly, they can better adapt to cultural and language differences in different countries and regions, provide personalized and customized products and services, enhance user stickiness, and increase market share.

Like most domestic platforms in China, ByteDance will also face significant challenges.Whether it’s previous social competitions, community group buying, or the metaverse, internet giants have flocked to them, but most of them have failed. AI is even more difficult to succeed in than the aforementioned industries.

Whether it is previous social competitions, community group purchases, or the metaverse, major internet companies have flocked to them, but most of them have failed. AI is even more difficult to achieve success in than the aforementioned industries.

Especially in terms of technology, in areas such as machine learning, machine perception, and data technologies, there is a need for large-scale data accumulation and training. It took nearly 8 years from the establishment of OpenAI’s ChatGPT to the product landing. Unlike most internet companies, ByteDance did not specifically focus on researching large models until last year. It can be said that ByteDance is still in the “0 to 1” stage in terms of large model development, and overcoming and upgrading technological barriers will still take some time.

And, large models are also very costly. According to Guosheng Securities’ report “How much computing power does ChatGPT need,” the estimated cost of training GPT-3 once is about $1.4 million. According to a report released by OpenAI, the approximate cost of training ChatGPT is around $47 million. Training a model similar to ChatGPT requires huge resource investment, and ByteDance has also ordered over $1 billion worth of GPUs from NVIDIA in 2023.

But in the current context of “reducing costs and increasing efficiency”, how to maintain a high level of investment in the field of AI technology will become a topic that large companies such as ByteDance must face. Vigorously pursuing AI dreams, ByteDance undoubtedly still has a long way to go.

SEE ALSO: The ByteDance Version of GPTs “Coze” Is Now Online