SINGAPORE: Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba opened its first joint research institute outside China in Singapore on Wednesday (Feb 28), in a collaboration with Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
The joint institute will explore technological breakthroughs and real-life artificial intelligence (AI) solutions in areas such as health, ageing and lifestyle.
Alibaba and NTU will commit a multimillion-dollar investment annually for an initial five years, and the institute will start with a pool of 50 researchers from both organisations.
Alibaba's contribution to the research institute will come from the US$15 billion (S$20 billion) fund earmarked for the Alibaba Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook (DAMO) Academy programme. The company declined to give an exact figure, although NTU said its scale will rival the likes of the Singtel-NTU corporate lab, which was funded for S$42.5 million.
Prof Suresh and Alibaba Group Chief Technology Officer Jeff Zhang on Wednesday signed a Memorandum of Understanding to mark the launch of the institute.
“NTU is known for its dedication to cutting-edge technologies like AI, as well as a strong track record of fruitful partnerships with the industry,” Mr Zhang, who leads the Alibaba DAMO Academy, said.
USING AI TO ADDRESS AGEING POPULATION
NTU and Alibaba said they aim to further push the frontiers of AI over the next five years and deploy AI solutions in scenarios ranging from home, retail, community and urban transportation to hospitals and nursing homes.
“Using AI technologies, we can address fundamental societal challenges such as an ageing population, which is a huge issue for cities with a rapidly ageing population such as Singapore,” said Prof Suresh.
“For example, virtual AI assistants can be deployed to improve work productivity and smart sensors can be used to watch the health of the elderly, with data stored on the cloud for continuous monitoring,” he said.
The new research institute can also tap on the NTU Smart Campus initiative – which sees the campus being used as a living testbed for smart technologies developed by NTU scientists or its industry partners.
NTU students, staff and faculty will also have opportunities to go on exchange programmes to Alibaba’s facilities and vice versa.
Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said that the NTU LILY research centre, Singapore’s first research centre focusing on technological solutions to address ageing problems, will also explore collaborations with the National Health Group under the NTU-Alibaba partnership.
ALIBABA TO OPEN RESEARCH LABS IN SIX OTHER CITIES
Last year, Alibaba announced it would more than double research and development spending to US$15 billion over the next three years to develop next-generation technology under its Alibaba DAMO Academy program.
Singapore is one of seven locations chosen to host the research labs, which are part of the research programme.
As for why Alibaba chose Singapore, Mr Zhang said: “Singapore is well known for its world-leading technology R&D institutions, strong base of academic research talent, a population that is receptive to the next big thing in technology and supportive government policies like the Smart Nation initiative.
“Singapore is also well-equipped with multi-language skillsets, which is extremely valuable for speech analysis and natural language processing research,” he added.
The other cities Alibaba plans to establish similar research labs are Moscow, Tel Aviv, Beijing and Hangzhou, as well as San Mateo and Bellevue in the United States.