Alibaba launches DAMO Academy to rival Microsoft Research and IBM Research

Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba, announced the launch of a global research program, called Alibaba DAMO Academy, on the first day of the Computing Conference 2017. The conference, which is typically held in mid-October in Hangzhou, where Alibaba is headquartered, has become the company’s yearly highlight to kick off its major new big data, cloud computing, and AI products.

Alibaba’s founder and executive chairman, Jack Ma, promised to invest USD 15.2 billion in the Academy over the next three years.

Ma said that he despised the idea of building a research division within the first 10 years of the company’s inception. Yet, having created and led Alibaba for 18 years, he has finally changed his mind.

Ma spoke of Microsoft Research and IBM Research when he explained why Alibaba is determined to launch the Academy. These two research organizations are known for their outstanding research achievements and have divisions across the globe.

While Microsoft and IBM offered him inspiration, Ma has tried to differentiate DAMO Academy from other research institutes which are either research-oriented or profit-oriented.

“We don’t research simply for fun nor purely for profit. We research to solving problems in a fun and profitable way,” Ma said. “We hope to surpass established research organizations.”

Jeff Zhang, Alibaba’s CTO, is introducing DAMO Academy. Photo from Alibaba

DAMO Academy, which stands for “Academy for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook,” will open many divisions around the world as other well-known research organizations have done. The Academy will be headed by Alibaba’s CTO, Jeff Zhang and has an advisory board of 10 members.

The Academy will open seven research labs in China (Beijing and Hangzhou), the United States (San Mateo and Bellevue), Russia (Moscow), Israel (Tel Aviv), and Singapore in its early development stages, with collaborations with luminaries in the technology sector and top educational institutions.

The academy’s labs will do research in a variety of fields, including data intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), fintech, quantum computing, and human-machine interaction.

Ma said that he has three expectations for the Academy: to outlive the Alibaba Group, which aims to exist for 102 years; to enable Alibaba to fulfill its commitment to serve two billion customers and create 100 million job opportunities in 20 years; and to generate revenue on its own after receiving USD 15.2 million in initial investment.

(Top photo from Alibaba)

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