Alibaba Cloud, a subsidiary of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has opened to the public its source code for an in-house machine-learning platform that it used to drive product recommendations during this year’s Singles Day shopping festival.

Why it matters: Alibaba has sharpened its focus on open-source software since 2011. The company’s cloud division is a member of the Linux Foundation and is active in a number of open-source communities including the Apache Software Foundation.

  • Against the backdrop of the Sino-US trade war, China has been criticized for relying on American frameworks for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
  • AI and machine learning is a collaborative movement and Alibaba Cloud joins a number of global internet firms which have released open-source platforms. It also stands to benefit from allowing more people to work on the platform, potentially improving it.

Details: Dubbed Alink, the platform offers a range of algorithm libraries that allow for processing live data as well as batched datasets, Alibaba Cloud said in a statement on Thursday.

  • Alink facilitates tasks including statistical analysis, machine learning, real-time prediction, personalized recommendations, and anomaly detection.
  • Alibaba has been using the platform across its businesses for the last three years. It said Alink helped increase the click rate of product recommendations on online marketplace Tmall by 4% during this year’s Nov. 11 Singles Day shopping festival.
  • The platform is built on Apache Flink, an open-source framework for handling big data at large scale.

“The difference between Alink and the pure AI platforms like Tensorflow and PyTorch is that those focus more on the algorithms and the design of the models. But today, for machine learning models to train effectively, we need to have a high-quality connection to the big data. Alink provides us with a seamless connection between the AI algorithms and the big data distributed systems.”

—Jia Yangqing, president and senior fellow of Data Platform at Alibaba Cloud Intelligence to TechNode on Thursday

Context: The State Council, China’s cabinet, has set ambitious goals for the country to become a global leader in AI by 2030. As a result, China has applied AI across industries, permeating every facet of daily life.

  • Nevertheless, the country lags behind in terms of talent and semiconductor development—the tools that provide the computing power that enables machines to learn from vast quantities of data.
  • Alibaba is not the only Chinese tech giant to open source its machine learning tools. Baidu has opened up its Paddle Paddle deep-learning framework, a tool that was also used internally across its product offering.

Christopher Udemans is TechNode's former Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covered Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, cleantech, and cybersecurity.

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