Alibaba’s Ma plans own NASA for groundbreaking new technology

By Zhang Ye Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/13 23:23:39

Alibaba Group Holding, known for its success in e-commerce, is trying to build up its reputation as a technology-driven powerhouse.

In the next two decades, the company plans to form independent research and development (R&D) teams to build up core technologies that can support its founder's grand vision of serving 2 billion customers around the world.

The plan, dubbed the NASA project, is expected to cover core technologies such as machine learning, chips, the Internet of Things and biometric identification, according to a press release Alibaba sent to the Global Times Monday via e-mail.

The decision was unveiled at a technology summit at the company's Hangzhou headquarters on March 9.

At the summit, founder Jack Ma Yun reiterated his goal of turning Alibaba into the world's fifth-largest economy in the next 20 years, creating 100 million jobs and enabling 10 million businesses turn a profit.

Such an economy has to be backed by solid technological capabilities, so "we will build Alibaba's own NASA," Ma said, referring to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration — a US organization he admires for what it has contributed to humans via technological breakthroughs.

Ma's counterparts — Baidu founder Li Yanhong and Tencent CEO Ma Huateng — also have high hopes for technological development.

During this year's two sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) national committee, both Li, a CPPCC member and Ma, a NPC deputy, urged the government to boost R&D as well as the application of core technologies like artificial intelligence.

"The focus on technology development has become an industry trend in China, as major domestic companies realize that only new technological advances can be growth engines for businesses and industries," Liu Dingding, a Beijing-based IT expert, told the Global Times Monday.

Liu said that Chinese companies will soon be able to gain a foothold in the global battleground by exporting technological advances instead of relying on innovation in the business model as they used to do. 

Before the announcement of its NASA project, Alibaba had already showcased its technological competence via a cloud computing unit, Alibaba Cloud.

Alibaba Cloud's Apsara operating system organizes the processing power of millions of servers into a huge computational engine. During the fourth quarter of 2016, Alibaba's cloud computing business revenue rose 115 percent to 1.76 billion yuan ($254 million).

Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent may have to seek funds to support the building of their technological capacity, amid fierce competition, said Liu.



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