Alibaba Group's powerful computing network and wealth of data gives the company key advantages in technological innovation, according to Chief Technology Officer Jeff Zhang, who last week offered a glimpse of products and services Alibaba is readying for rollout that will be based on artificial intelligence. "We have been very successful business-wise, commerce-wise and sometimes that tends to overshadow what we have accomplished on the technological front," Zhang said during an investors conference held at Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou, China. To support its giant e-commerce business, Alibaba has built a computational network that is the world's fastest cloud-based "streaming processing" platform. "One of our main characteristics is our scale," Zhang said. During Alibaba's blockbuster Singles Day sale last year, the company's platform processed 175,000 transactions a second at peak periods, or 10 million orders per minute.
Alibaba Group is powering ahead with a range of AI research and initiatives in a bid to realise its vision: To make it easy to do business everywhere and anywhere. That's according to an Alibaba Group chief scientist and associate dean of machine intelligence and technology, Xiaofeng Ren, who spoke at CeBIT about how to develop AI applications that power the future of business. "Alibaba has changed the everyday life of the Chinese in China. Looking forward, our visionary leader, Jack Ma, wants us to be able to reach two billion consumers and to help 10 million businesses around the world. That's a very big call, but we already have half of the platforms in place."
In implementing AI, Alibaba is applying numerous complex machine-learning methods and disciplines, such as online machine learning, transfer learning, deep learning, artificial neural networks and reinforcement learning. The latter mimics the way the human brain learns through experience. Simply put, the computer "learns" to recognize patterns in data that lead to right and wrong answers through an iterative process, similar to the way a child learns by trial-and-error to throw a ball. This technology depends on the creation of software algorithms that enable computers to reach correct conclusions by being fed huge numbers of examples, building up a base of "experiences" that can be applied to recognize patterns and solve problems in new situations. These learning machines become smarter and more accurate as they are given more and more data. This means Alibaba, with its vast computer resources and access to online data from hundreds of millions of consumers, is well positioned to introduce practical, real-world AI applications into everyday use. The company over the last 17 years has built up one of the world's largest distributed-computing networks, allowing it to marshall the computational horsepower necessary for AI. Alibaba's cloud computing subsidiary, one of the world's top 5 public cloud providers, has developed an operating system called Apsara that organizes data centers into a computational engine that can process more than 175,000 transactions a second.
The traditional retail industry is undergoing a significant reinvention and upgrade as more and more brick and mortar stores boost business by adopting e-commerce platforms powered by cutting-edge tech. The recent rapid development and deployment of AI technologies such as machine learning, computer vision and reinforcement learning have enabled new e-commerce products and solutions for various scenarios and strengthened the retail value chain. Alibaba's Taobao and Tmall, Amazon, JD.com); or on a brand's own official web stores (e.g. Thanks to recent advancements in AI and digital technologies, operating costs for e-commerce have been reduced, enabling more retailers to realize e-commerce transformations. The 2018 global retail e-commerce market amounted to US$2.8 trillion and is expected to grow 75 percent to US$4.9 trillion by 2021.
Alibaba is using artificial intelligence (AI) to create tailor-made shopping experiences for consumers and targeted marketing for brands as it seeks to "empower people in the virtual economy". Alibaba's principal engineer Rong Jin, told The Drum, that Alibaba is using AI technology within Taobao and Tmall through features such as smart product search and recommendation, customer-service chat-bots and image matching, which enables users to take a photo of a product and search for similar looking items. "AI plays a crucial role in delivering the best customer experience across a wide spectrum of our services inside the Alibaba ecosystem," said Jin. "Besides leveraging the AI technology to support our platforms, we are also starting to transfer AI services to empower more and more businesses. "We believe that as mobile commerce becomes the trend, an increasing amount of data will be available online. We can then develop smart business intelligence through data analysis, which will then help better predict demand and optimise the entire supply chain system."