Alibaba Group announced on October 11th the launch of an innovative global research program, Alibaba Academy for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum, and Outlook (or DAMO Academy), designed to increase technological collaboration worldwide. With the setup of the Academy, the company expects to invest more than $15 billion in research and development over the next three years.
The Academy is the first major global initiative of Alibaba to fulfill its commitment to serve 2 billion customers and create 100 million job opportunities in 20 years (in Chinese). Alibaba now has around 25,000 engineers and scientists on its staff.
The Academy will oversee the opening of seven research and development labs worldwide and seek to recruit 100 talented scientists and researchers from around the world to join the program. Alibaba Group’s Chief Technology Officer, Jeff Zhang will be the head of the Academy.
Under the plan, seven research labs will open in China (Beijing and Hangzhou), the United States (San Mateo and Bellevue), Russia (Moscow), Israel (Tel Aviv) and Singapore, focusing on both foundational and disruptive technology research including data intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), fintech, quantum computing and human-machine interaction. Within those broad research areas, the labs will focus on topics such as machine learning, network security, visual computing, and Natural Language Processing (NLP). The Academy will also cooperate with the University of California, Berkeley through its RISE Lab on areas such as secured real-time computing.
“In the 20th century, a company could solve one or two problems and can be successful. In the 21st century, you need to solve greater problems to be successful. We are aware that we are a late mover in research, and we need to learn from IBM and Microsoft,” chairman of Alibaba Group, Jack Ma pointed out at the Alibaba Computing Conference 2017 held in Hangzhou. He shared his three hopes for Alibaba DAMO Academy.
Jack Ma stressed that the Academy will not only serve as Alibaba’s R&D arm but also become a self-sustainable company by monetizing its technology.
“Alibaba DAMO Academy will be self-supportive. We will invest $15 billion for the next three years as an initial money to recruit talents, but it should earn money on its own. We strongly believe that we will profit from the technology, not by the scale,” Jack Ma said.
Along with the announcement of Alibaba DAMO Academy, Alibaba Group’s Chief Technology Officer, Jeff Zhang stressed the importance of data for Alibaba Group.
“The difference between a traditional company and an internet company is that the latter makes decisions based on data, and they know if they should turn on a red light or green light for the project, and what will be the consequence of the changes,” Zhang remarked at the conference.
“We have an unwritten rule: In Alibaba’s meetings, we ask our team to bring the data, if you don’t have data, bring a case study, if you don’t have a case study, bring your viewpoint. Without data, case study or viewpoint, then the colleague does not need to present his proposal. The data comes first, and when you have data, you have power just like the CEO. This is very important part of Internet thinking.”