Dr. Han Xiao © Private

05 December 2023

"LLMs will be the linchpin, seamlessly translating human intent into actionable machine instructions."

What does it take to be a leader in the rapidly evolving world of multimodal AI? Jina AI, based in the tech hub of Berlin, provides a compelling answer. Spearheaded by Dr. Han Xiao, this innovative company is at the forefront of harnessing AI for transformative value creation and cost savings. In our exclusive interview with Dr. Han Xiao, we explore the journey, vision, and pioneering strategies that define Jina AI, offering a glimpse into the ambitious future they envision for AI.

Jina AI has transitioned from being a pioneer in the field of neural search (see our story from February 2022) and open-source frameworks to becoming a platform for multimodal AI solutions like "PromptPerfect" and "Rationale." What's the story behind this strategic shift?

Jina AI's evolution from pioneering neural search to becoming a beacon for multimodal AI solutions is a reflection of both the changing landscape of AI technology and our commitment to staying ahead of the curve. In 2023, our strategy centered on two groundbreaking technologies: prompt-based and embedding-based technologies, manifested in our flagship products PromptPerfect, SceneXplain, and Jina Embeddings. Our pivot was informed by two key observations: the seismic shift ushered in by OpenAI's ChatGPT/GPT4 and the invaluable insights we garnered from our journey between 2020 and 2023. As we witnessed many AI workflows and pipelines becoming redundant, largely due to OpenAI's innovations, we took a step back. We reflected on our developer stack and decisively chose to invest in prompts and embeddings - technologies we firmly believe will shape the foundation of future developer and enterprise applications.

To contextualize this, consider the transformative impact of large language models (LLMs) on human-machine interactions. Tasks that once required intricate coding by specialized developers can now be effortlessly executed through prompts by power users, signaling a profound paradigm shift. This revolution is evident in the viral success of projects like chatPDF in January 2023, autoGPT in April 2023, and GPT-powered agent systems from August 2023 onwards. Strikingly, these initiatives shunned complex architectures, model hosting, and platforms like Pytorch and Kubernetes, relying instead on the simplicity and efficiency of prompts and API forwarding. And yet, they were at the epicenter of AI conversations in 2023.

Given these developments, I envision a future where traditional programming might become an arcane skill. Developers might gravitate towards using prompts, a more intuitive and humanized language, to converse with machines. In this world, LLMs will be the linchpin, seamlessly translating human intent into actionable machine instructions. Jina AI, through its strategic shifts and innovations, is not just observing this future but actively shaping it.

Could you provide a few specific use cases for your solutions?

Our recent release of the jina-embeddings-v2, on October 26th, stands as a testament to Jina AI's commitment to spearheading innovation in the AI realm. This second-generation text embedding model is not just an upgrade; it's a paradigm shift. With an unparalleled open-source offering that supports an impressive 8K (8192 tokens) context length, we have not only matched but also positioned ourselves shoulder to shoulder with OpenAI's proprietary model, text-embedding-ada-002. This comparison is evident in our performance on the Massive Text Embedding Benchmark (MTEB) leaderboard.

Being the world's first company to deliver a model with performance on par with OpenAI is no small feat. It's a monumental achievement that underscores our dedication to excellence and innovation. But what does this mean for the end-users? Our model's 8K context length capability translates to substantial enhancements, particularly for systems dealing with extensive documents, enhancing search accuracy and recommendation quality.

The applications of the jina-embeddings-v2 are vast and transformative, unlocking potentials that were previously out of reach:
1. Legal Document Analysis: This ensures every intricate detail in lengthy legal documents is meticulously captured and analyzed.
2. Medical Research: Now, comprehensive scientific papers can be embedded in their entirety, paving the way for groundbreaking analytics and discoveries.
3. Literary Analysis: Delve into in-depth literary works and capture the nuanced thematic elements with unprecedented precision.
4. Financial Forecasting: Garner unparalleled insights from elaborate financial analyses and reports.
5. Conversational AI: Elevate chatbot interactions by providing more accurate and tailored responses to complex user queries.

In essence, with jina-embeddings-v2, we're not just setting a new benchmark; we're redefining the boundaries of what's possible in the realm of text embedding, marking a new era of innovation and application.

Does the tech and open-source community still play a significant role in this strategy?

Absolutely, the ethos of open-source remains central to our strategy. As the tech landscape evolves, so too does the concept of 'open'. This year, OpenAI redefined the term from "open-source" to "open access." Many developers today prioritize rapid market deployment and, as a result, lean towards utilizing open-access API providers like OpenAI over traditional open-source platforms. 

Yet, at Jina AI, we are forging a path that showcases a more holistic interpretation of openness. With the introduction of jina-embeddings-v2, we have delineated our commitment to three primary pillars of openness:
1. Open Research: We have taken strides to maintain transparency in our methodology by publishing our model's training approach on ArXiv.
2. Open Dataset: Furthering our commitment, we've made our training data accessible to the community by uploading it to Hugging Face for public consumption.
3. Open Public Model and Open-source Code: Going a step further, we've ensured that everyone, be it a budding developer or an established enterprise, can freely utilize our model and even adapt it for commercial applications.

In the vast ocean of tech innovations, we see open-source not just as code accessible to all, but as a philosophy. It's a testament to our belief in collective growth, transparency, and fostering a community that thrives on collaboration. We are staunch believers in the transformative power of open-source and its ability to revolutionize the way we think, develop, and innovate. At Jina AI, we're not just endorsing this philosophy; we're living it every day.

With your firsthand experience in the AI ecosystems of the USA, China, and Germany, what fundamental differences do you observe?

Indeed, drawing comparisons among the AI ecosystems of the USA, China, and Germany is a complex endeavor, and a few sentences can hardly do justice to their unique intricacies. For those interested in a more elaborate discussion, I recently participated in a documentary by a German TV station, offering a comprehensive view of this very topic.

To encapsulate:

USA: Arguably the epicenter of global tech innovation, the USA enjoys a plethora of advantages: abundant capital, massive momentum in the tech sector, a robust ecosystem fostering innovation, numerous successful tech startups that serve as paradigms, a reservoir of top talent, and a culture that thrives on innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. It's challenging to find reasons why it wouldn't retain its premier position in AI leadership. However, it's worth noting that the recent geopolitical frictions, particularly those directed at China, seem to be a misstep and, in my opinion, a misguided strategy.

China: China's AI ecosystem boasts remarkable talent, impressive momentum, a surge in startups, and undeniable top-down government support. The expansive domestic market offers a fertile ground for innovations to take root and flourish. However, the nation's stance on Generative AI, characterized by policy ambiguities and stringent censorship, poses challenges. The overarching uncertainty regarding where the boundaries lie makes it increasingly challenging to run an AI-centric business. While the market appears dynamic and free in several aspects, the underlying reality presents constraints.

Germany/Europe: Europe, with Germany at its forefront, stands out for its harmonious work-life balance, a legacy of deep-rooted AI research culture, skilled talent pool, and relatively lower living costs. However, it grapples with a slower pace of innovation and a dearth of trailblazing leaders who can set precedents for others to emulate. The startup ecosystem here often misses out on the collaborative spirit of collectively amplifying opportunities. Furthermore, the conservative outlook of European venture capitalists is a notable bottleneck. They tend to shy away from assigning ambitious valuations to tech startups, often preferring to follow the lead of their American or Chinese counterparts rather than setting the pace.

In conclusion, while each ecosystem has its strengths and challenges, it's imperative for nations and regions to learn from each other, adapt, and evolve to ensure the global AI landscape remains vibrant, diverse, and progressive.

What prompted you to establish Jina AI in Berlin in 2020, and what advantages do you leverage at your other locations?

Choosing Berlin as the birthplace for Jina AI in 2020 was an intersection of personal affinity and strategic insight. My connection to Berlin dates back to 2014 when I moved from Munich. The years I spent living and working here have only deepened my fondness for the city. Berlin resonates with me on a cultural level, with its remnants of communist-era architecture evoking memories of certain parts of Beijing, my hometown. It's a delightful blend of nostalgia and novelty.

Beyond the personal, Berlin offers practical advantages for startups. It's an affordable city teeming with untapped potential. Unlike places like Munich, which are dominated by a singular industry (automobiles, in Munich's case), Berlin's tech landscape is diverse and not overshadowed by a couple of mammoth entities. This diversity opens doors for new ventures to make their mark.

Furthermore, Berlin is a melting pot of global talent. Its cosmopolitan nature attracts top-tier professionals from across the globe, making it a hotbed for innovation and fresh perspectives. The city's casual vibe, coupled with its vibrant and fun atmosphere, makes it an appealing destination for young professionals and entrepreneurs alike.

An added advantage, especially for Jina AI's global vision, is the direct flight connectivity between Berlin and Beijing. This facilitates smoother commuting and, more importantly, seamless knowledge exchange, bridging the two worlds I deeply resonate with.

Your impressive journey includes diverse international experiences and insights into the workings of leading technology companies. What's your perspective on international collaboration and knowledge exchange in the field of AI, and how do you view current efforts towards its regulation?

The wave of tech globalization, once riding high, seems to be receding as the discourse pivots to tech sovereignty, particularly in the European Union. In China, there's a similar sentiment encapsulated by the term "自主创新" or "independent innovation." However, from my personal experience, innovation thrives not in isolation but in interaction. To work in seclusion, disconnected from global advancements and insights, greatly hampers the potential to innovate.

AI, like most pioneering fields, is powered by a dynamic interplay of collaboration and competition. They're akin to the Yin and Yang of innovation, each force complementing and fueling the other. Today, unfortunately, the balance seems to be tipping. An outsized focus on competition, especially among political circles in both China and the US, is fostering an environment rife with geopolitical tensions and an undercurrent of conspiracy theories.

It deeply saddens me to witness this trajectory. There've been instances where I've been questioned about Jina AI's national identity, whether it's more German or Chinese. Sometimes, I've had to conclusively establish its German roots by presenting my own German passport and detailing the company's holding structure. Such interrogations compel me to reflect: since when did pioneering in AI or any tech startup venture become mired in issues of face, nationality, or identity? It's a poignant reflection of the times and a stark deviation from the essence of innovation, which should be boundless and free from such constraints. 

Thank you very much for your time!