ByteDance surprises AI rivals with ultra-low cost Doubao model

ByteDance's Doubao model processes 2M Chinese characters for $0.14, potentially sparking a price war in China's AI field.

: ByteDance unveiled its low-cost AI model, Doubao, capable of handling 2 million Chinese characters for just $0.14. This move may prompt a price war in China's AI sector. The Doubao model family includes nine versions and is now open to external developers.

ByteDance has taken the artificial intelligence industry by surprise with its ultra-low-cost Doubao model, which processes 2 million Chinese characters (equivalent to 1.25 million tokens) for only RMB 1 ($0.14). In comparison, OpenAI's recently unveiled GPT-4 model costs $5 per million input tokens, making ByteDance's offering significantly more economical. This groundbreaking pricing strategy, as explained by Tan Dai, president of ByteDance’s cloud computing services unit, Volcano Engine, is achieved through efficient model structuring and the hybrid scheduling of cloud computing resources. Such an aggressive pricing strategy is expected to trigger a price war in China's AI market, similar to the earlier battles fought over model parameters.

The Doubao model family consists of nine distinct versions, ranging from a basic 'lite version' to the advanced Doubao Pro, capable of managing up to 128,000 token inputs. Some models within this family are designed specifically for generating pictures and virtual characters, making the offering versatile for various AI applications. Although ByteDance did not reveal the number of parameters used for training the Doubao Pro model, it is clear that the company's focus is on making advanced AI accessible and affordable for widespread use. This approach aligns with their philosophy that high-volume usage refines a model and substantially lowers per-unit costs.

Besides the launch of the Doubao models, ByteDance has already introduced a ChatGPT alternative named Doubao, which reportedly has 26 million monthly active users. The Doubao models are now available for external developers and businesses via Volcano Engine, ByteDance’s cloud platform, although this availability comes after competitors such as Alibaba and Tencent opened up their models to enterprise customers earlier in the year. The launch of these models follows internal criticism by ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming, who chastised employees for lagging in recognizing the potential of technologies like ChatGPT, despite the company already having launched its Doubao chatbot last year.