Alibaba Cloud’s chief scientist Min Wanli resigns to start VC firm

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Simon Hu, then-president of Alibaba Cloud, launched ET City Brain 2.0 at the company’s Cloud Computing Conference 2018 in Hangzhou. (Image credit: Alibaba)

Alibaba Cloud chief scientist Min Wanli on Saturday announced his resignation after six years with the e-commerce behemoth, the latest in a series events signaling slowing progress in smart transportation progress across China.

In a farewell letter obtained by Chinese media, Min said he had set up a venture capital firm to help fund the integration of cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies into traditional industries such as manufacturing, agriculture, and healthcare.

A spokesman from Alibaba confirmed Min’s departure when contacted by TechNode on Monday. The handover was completed smoothly, and urban management and industrial solutions remain among key areas of focus for the company’s cloud business, he said.

After obtaining a doctorate in statistics from the University of Chicago and working as a data scientist at IBM and Google for nearly 10 years, Min joined Alibaba in September 2013 as its principal data scientist. He was tasked with developing data solutions for Alibaba’s online marketplaces Taobao and Tmall to drive sales and target users.

Min later served as vice president and chief scientist in Alibaba Cloud beginning mid-2017, leading the creation of ET City Brain, Alibaba’s cloud-powered and AI-driven urban traffic management system. The e-commerce and cloud giant in September launched the ET City Brain 2.0 in collaboration with the government of the eastern Chinese city Hangzhou. More than 1,300 traffic lights and 200 traffic officers were connected online to boost the city’s efficiency, according to the company.

Min’s departure casts a shadow on Alibaba’s ambitions in urban transportation digitization. In a recent report by Caixin, industry researchers expressed concern about the “slow progress” of intelligent transport system (ITS) construction nationwide. A researcher hired by the government said many government agencies have no idea how to collect useful information from data, or use data productively to improve traffic management.

Also, local governments are concerned about involving tech giants too much in urban management projects, and therefore most ITS projects across the country are slow to progress, Liu Liu, co-founder of Shanghai-based smart city solution provider CitoryTech told TechNode on Monday.

Min set up a company named North Summit Capital Management Limited with a registered capital of RMB 10 million ($1.45 million) in Shenzhen in late April, according to the company database website Qichacha.com. Chinese media reported it had received several hundred million dollars in its first round of funding.

This article was corrected to reflect North Summit Capital Management’s funding of several hundred million dollars, not $100 million.