Biased GPT? Singapore builds AI model to 'represent' Southeast Asians | Tech News

Biased GPT? Singapore builds AI model to 'represent' Southeast Asians

Like millions worldwide, Southeast Asians have been trying out large language models such as Meta's Llama 2 and Mistral AI - but in their native Bahasa Indonesia or Thai. The result has usually been gibberish in English.

| Updated on: Feb 08 2024, 12:20 IST
Elevate Your Valentine's Day with Sony's Tech-Savvy Gifts including wireless earbuds, headphones and more
artificial intelligence
1/5 1. Sony WF-1000XM5 Wireless Noise-Cancelling Earbuds: Elevate your music experience with these top-notch earbuds featuring unparalleled noise cancellation, premium sound quality, and a snug fit. Perfect for the music enthusiast seeking tranquility in their tunes. Priced at Rs. 24,990. 
image caption
2/5 2. Sony WH-1000XM5 Wireless Headphones: Opt for the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones for your Valentine, offering supreme noise cancellation powered by Sony's latest Integrated Processor V1. Convenient touch controls and compatibility with voice assistants ensure seamless usage. Available at Rs. 29,990. 
image caption
3/5 3. Sony Alpha ZV-E1 Camera: Ideal for budding content creators, the ZV-E1 camera is tailored for vlogging with its compact design, large grip, and vari-angle LCD screen. Capture crystal-clear audio with the built-in microphone, making every video a masterpiece. It is priced at Rs. 188,990. 
image caption
4/5 4. PlayStation VR2: Take gaming to new heights with the PlayStation VR2, delivering an immersive experience with stunning visuals, 3D audio, and innovative PS VR2 Sense technology when paired with a PlayStation 5 console. It is priced at Rs. 57,999. 
image caption
5/5 5. SRS-XV800 Bluetooth Speaker: Bring the party anywhere with the SRS-XV800 X-series speaker, offering powerful sound and integrated lights synchronized to the music. Enjoy uninterrupted music playback with its impressive 25-hour battery life. Get it for Rs. 49,990.
artificial intelligence
View all Images
A Southeast Asian language model (LLM) called SEA-LION has been created by a Singapore government-led initiative to provide better representation for the region. (REUTERS)

Like millions worldwide, Southeast Asians have been trying out large language models such as Meta's Llama 2 and Mistral AI - but in their native Bahasa Indonesia or Thai. The result has usually been gibberish in English.

This leaves them at a disadvantage, tech experts warn, as generative artificial intelligence transforms education, work and governance worldwide.

A Singapore government-led initiative aims to correct the imbalance with a Southeast Asian LLM, the first in a family of models named SEA-LION - Southeast Asian Languages in One Network - trained in the region's languages and cultural norms.

Trained on data in 11 Southeast Asian languages including Vietnamese, Thai and Bahasa Indonesia, the open-sourced model is a cheaper and more efficient option for the region's businesses, governments and academia, said Leslie Teo at AI Singapore.

"Do we want to force every person in Southeast Asia to adapt to the machine, or do we want to make it more accessible so people in the region can make full use of the technology without having to be an English speaker?" he said.

"We are not trying to compete with the big LLMs; we are trying to complement them, so there can be better representation of us," Teo, senior director for AI products, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

There are over 7,000 languages spoken worldwide. Yet LLMs including Open AI's GPT-4 and Meta's Llama 2 that are used to build AI systems such as chatbots and other tools, have largely been developed for, and are trained on, the English language.

Governments and tech firms are trying to bridge this gap, with India creating datasets in local languages, an LLM in the United Arab Emirates powering generative AI tools in Arabic, and AI models in China, Japan and Vietnam in local languages.

These models can help local populations participate more equitably in the global AI economy that is largely dominated by big tech firms, said Nuurrianti Jalli, an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University's school of communications.

"Regional LLMs are also needed because they support technology self-reliance," she said. “Less reliance on Western LLMs could provide better privacy for local populations, and also align better with national or regional interest.”


Multilingual language models that are trained on text from several languages at once, can infer semantic and grammatical connections between high resource languages that have more data, and low resource languages, researchers say.

These models can be used in a variety of applications from translation to customer-service chatbots, to content moderation on social media platforms that have struggled to identify hate speech in low resource languages such as Burmese or Amharic.

About 13% of SEA-LION's data is sourced from Southeast Asian languages - more than any other major LLM, said Teo. More than 9% of its data is from Chinese text, and about 63% from English.

Multilingual language models often train on translated text and other poor quality data that may have errors, so AI Singapore is "careful" about the data used in training SEA-LION, Teo said in his office at the National University of Singapore.

"The age of pristine data has passed - a lot of the stuff on the internet now is material that is generated by LLMs, so we need to verify and filter," he said.

"We cannot be perfect, but we also cannot take out everything we consider to be bad," he added.

More governments are contributing data, and businesses are testing SEA-LION, which due to its smaller size can be deployed faster and is cheaper to fine-tune and adopt, Teo said.

At Indonesian e-commerce company Tokopedia, a majority of customer interactions is in Bahasa Indonesia, so models "with that local fluency will enhance our ability to connect with customers and improve their experiences," said Paul Condylis, Tokopedia's associate vice president of data science.


As more countries and regions build their own LLMs, digital and human rights experts fret that they will reproduce only the dominant views expressed online, which can be particularly problematic in nations with authoritarian governments or strict media censorship, or those lacking a strong civil society.

Chinese social media platforms, for example, censor references to the Tiananmen Square uprising and criticism of the government, while several Southeast Asian nations have enacted laws to curb content that authorities deem as misleading.

"Training models on such data risks perpetuating biased, prejudiced, incomplete and even misleading narratives," said Jalli.

"The models may fail to surface important socio-political issues like human rights abuse, corruption, or valid criticism of political powers," she said.

In response to a query on Indonesian former president Suharto, for example, Llama 2 and GPT-4 mentioned his spotty human rights record, while SEA-LION's response focused largely on his achievements.

If a model is only trained on favourable articles about a government, then the model is "likely to adopt a worldview where the government is wholly positive and leave behind dissenting viewpoints," said Aliya Bhatia, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a U.S. non-profit.

"Regional LLMs may better reflect the linguistic and cultural nuances of local language speakers, but they may also have less information about the world in general," she added.

"There is a real risk of government-backed models instilling a revisionist view of history and undermining democratic values."

But the alternative - relying entirely on Western LLMs with "disproportionately large influences" from wealthy, liberal, western democracies - means perpetuating different biases related to cultural values, political beliefs and social norms, according to AI Singapore.

"These LLMs have a very particular West Coast American bias - they are very woke. They do not represent us," said Teo.

“We are not saying ours is the only perspective - we are just trying to rebalance it.”

Also, read these top stories today:

Cookies are crumbling! The little data files that helped companies stalk users around the web are vanishing. But that doesn't mean a return to privacy. Some interesting details in this article. Check it out here.

Meta will challenge the EU! Meta announced on Wednesday it would challenge in court an EU demand for fees under a content moderation law, which is the EU's legal weaponry to rein in Big Tech. Read all about it here.

Microsoft to cut more jobs! The FTC seeks a response after Microsoft's plans surfaced revealing that the Satya Nadella-led company aims to cut 1900 jobs from the newly acquired Activision Blizzard. Dive in here.

Follow HT Tech for the latest tech news and reviews , also keep up with us on Whatsapp channel,Twitter, Facebook, Google News, and Instagram. For our latest videos, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

First Published Date: 08 Feb, 12:19 IST