China’s Alibaba is Investing Huge Sums in AI Research and Resources — and It Is Building Tools To Challenge Google and Amazon

Alibaba is already using AI and machine learning to optimize its supply chain, personalize recommendations, and build products like Tmall Genie, a home device similar to the Amazon Echo. China’s two other tech supergiants, Tencent and Baidu, are likewise pouring money into AI research. The government plans to build an AI industry worth around $150 billion by 2030 and has called on the country’s researchers to dominate the field by then. But Alibaba’s ambition is to be the leader in providing cloud-based AI. From a report: Like cloud storage (think Dropbox) or cloud computing (Amazon Web Services), cloud AI will make powerful resources cheaply and readily available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection, enabling new kinds of businesses to grow. The real race in AI between China and the US, then, will be one between the two countries’ big cloud companies, which will vie to be the provider of choice for companies and cities that want to make use of AI. And if Alibaba is anything to go by, China’s tech giants are ready to compete with Google, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft to serve up AI on tap. Which company dominates this industry will have a huge say in how AI evolves and how it is used. […] There have been other glimpses of Alibaba’s progress in AI lately. Last month a research team at the company released an AI program capable of reading a piece of text, and answering simple questions about that text, more accurately than anything ever built before. The text was in English, not Chinese, because the program was trained on the Stanford Question Answering Dataset (SQuAD), a benchmark used to test computerized question-and-answer systems. […] One advantage China’s tech companies have over their Western counterparts is the government’s commitment to AI. Smart cities that use the kind of technology found in Shanghai’s metro kiosks are likely to be in the country’s future. One of Alibaba’s cloud AI tools is a suite called City Brain, designed for tasks like managing traffic data and analyzing footage from city video cameras.


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