Alibaba to invest $15b in R&D through new global program

Under the new research program, called the Alibaba DAMO Academy, the ecommerce giant will invest $15 billion in 'breakthrough' technologies.

Alibaba Group has announced the launch of a global research program and its plan to invest $15 billion in R&D through the program over the next three years.

The program, called Alibaba DAMO Academy, is aimed at increasing technological collaboration globally, advancing the development of "cutting-edge" technology, and making the world more inclusive by "narrowing the technology gap", it said in an announcement on Wednesday.

The DAMO Academy, short for "Academy for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum, and Outlook", will be led by Alibaba CTO Jeff Zhang.

In the initial phase of the program, Alibaba will open seven research labs in Beijing and Hangzhou in China; San Mateo and Bellevue in the United States; Moscow, Russia; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Singapore.

The labs will focus on research areas such as data intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), fintech, quantum computing, and human-machine interaction. Within those research areas, the labs will focus on machine learning, network security, visual computing, and natural language processing.

Alibaba is seeking to recruit 100 researchers worldwide to join the program, as well as to collaborate with established technology companies and educational institutions.

"Over the past 18 years, we have developed a robust technology infrastructure that supports the rapid growth of our business. With our global expansion, we have grown and refined our technology manifold," Zhang said in a statement.

"We are now looking for talented and driven researchers to join us in the quest for new disruptive technologies that would advance our everyday lives, benefit small businesses, and narrow the technology gap to make our world a more inclusive place."

Alibaba said the DAMO Academy has already established a partnership with the University of California, Berkeley, which will see the entities explore areas such as secured real-time computing through the RISE Lab.

"[DAMO] is the first major global initiative to focus on developing the global technological capabilities and infrastructure that will enable Alibaba to fulfil its commitment to serve 2 billion customers and create 100 million job opportunities in 20 years," the Chinese ecommerce giant said in an announcement.

Alibaba currently has around 25,000 engineers and scientists on its staff across its multiple businesses of ecommerce, cloud infrastructure, payment and financial services, logistics, marketing services, and digital media.

The DAMO Academy's advisory board members include professors from a range of educational institutions including Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Beijing University of Technology, Peking University, and Zhejiang University.

In September, Alibaba announced that it would be setting aside 100 billion yuan over five years to boost its global logistics network as it pushes ahead with its "new retail" strategy. The aim of the investment is to fulfil online orders within 24 hours in China, and within 72 hours anywhere across the globe.

The Chinese ecommerce giant said that the funds will be used for research and development in logistics data technology, as well as for development of smart warehousing, smart delivery, and global logistics infrastructure.

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