Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has announced that it will be investing approximately $15 billion to launch seven new research and development labs in the course of the coming three years. The labs will be located in Israel, Singapore, Russia, China and the United States and Alibaba will be aiming to build its artificial intelligence clout. About 100 researchers are expected to be employed in the new labs.
Alibaba made the announcement at its Hangzhou headquarters where the chief technology officer of the company, Jeff Zhang, indicated that the investment would be part of a program known as Alibaba’s Academy for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook. The labs’ areas of focus will be human-machine interaction, quantum computing, internet of things and data intelligence.
“The Alibaba DAMO Academy will be at the forefront of developing next-generation technology that will spur the growth of Alibaba and our partners. We aim to discover breakthrough technologies that will enable greater efficiency, network security and ecosystem synergy…,” said Zhang.
According to Alibaba the long-term goals of the DAMO initiative will be to assist the online retail giant in providing services to two billion customers as well as generating 100 million jobs in the course of the next two decades.
This comes at a time when the Chinese government has made known its intention of making China the global AI leader by the year 2030. Beijing is backing that ambition with policies and money and this has left observers in Europe and the United States worried since their governments’ budgets are less bountiful which is likely to leave the West at a disadvantage.
Though it started off in online retail, Alibaba has diversified into cloud computing services as well as artificial intelligence applications which range from shopping choices and targeted ads to facial recognition systems. The online retail giant has benefited from the data that it has obtained from its various businesses ranging from movies and logistics to payments.
According to Alibaba’s customer experience head, Felix Liu, the e-commerce firm started using artificial intelligence customer applications between two and three years ago. The use of AI has now grown and it now assists in all customer enquiries. In about 50% of the cases artificial intelligence applications are able to respond to customer enquiries completely. Artificial intelligence applications have also been used in the early detection of problems. They can for instance spot a logistics problem when status inquiries reach an abnormal level.