Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴) is to more than double research and development spending to US$15 billion over the next three years to develop next-generation technology, drive its sprawling business and explore moonshot projects that could upend industries.
The Chinese e-commerce giant plans to set up seven research labs and hire 100 scientists around the world to delve into artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and quantum computing, the company said in an e-mailed statement.
Specific fields include machine learning, visual computing and network security.
The program marks a significant ramp-up in its research and development outlay and is intended to help the US$469 billion behemoth keep pace with Amazon.com Inc and Tencent Holdings Ltd (騰訊) in potentially industry-changing advancements.
It is in line with ambitions voiced by top policymakers who want China to become a global leader in artificial intelligence.
“The labs will help solve issues that Alibaba is currently facing across its business lines,” Alibaba chief technology officer Jeff Zhang (張建鋒) said in a telephone interview. “It will also be at the forefront of developing next-generation technology.”
The planned investment compares with the US$6.4 billion the company spent on research and development over the past three fiscal years, data compiled by Bloomberg showed.
The company is calling its global research program the Alibaba DAMO Academy — short for discovery, adventure, momentum and outlook.
It is to set up labs across China, the US, Russia, Israel and Singapore, and fund collaborations with universities, including the University of California, Berkeley.
It has also enlisted professors from institutions such as Princeton and Harvard to sit on an advisory board.
Alibaba has 25,000 engineers and scientists on staff and has spent an average 20 billion yuan (US$3.04 billion) per year on research, the company said in the statement.
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