Alibaba Group announced today that it plans to invest more than $15 billion over the next three years into a global research and development initiative called Alibaba DAMO Academy. The Chinese tech giant said the program, which it is currently recruiting 100 researchers, will help it reach its goal of serving two billion customers and creating 100 million jobs by 2036, while also "increasing technological collaboration worldwide."
DAMO Academy (the initials stand for “discovery, adventure, momentum and outlook”) will be led by Alibaba Group chief technology officer Jeff Zhang and start by opening labs in seven cities around the world: Beijing and Hangzhou in China; San Mateo and Bellevue in the U.S.; Moscow, Russia; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Singapore.
Alibaba's researchers will collaborate closely with university programs such as U.C. Berkeley’s RISE Lab, which is developing technologies that enable computers to make secure decisions based on real-time data. DAMO Academy's current advisory board also includes professors from Princeton, Harvard, MIT, the University of Washington, Columbia University, Beijing Institute of Technology, Peking University and Zhejiang University.
Research will focus on a wide array of areas, including data intelligence, the Internet of Things, financial tech, quantum computing and human-machine interaction. More specifically, Alibaba Group said researchers will look at machine learning, network security, visual computing and natural language processing.
Alibaba joins other major Chinese tech firms in setting up labs and working closely with technology researchers and universities in the U.S. and other countries. These programs give companies the benefit of dipping into new talent pools without having to convince potential hires to move to China (and also potentially luring them away from rivals like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple).
For example, Baidu’s research lab in Silicon Valley, which works on big data, deep learning and artificial intelligence, is recruiting from top American research universities, while Tencent (the maker of WeChat) announced plans in May to set up an AI research lab in Seattle. Huawei also set up an AI research partnership with U.C. Berkeley last year with initial funding of $1 million.