On February 28, Chinese tech giant Alibaba and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) established a joint research institute in Singapore. The institute will focus on AI applications, including health care, smart home and urban transportation.
According to Alibaba, the institute is the firm’s first joint research center outside of China. It will be located on the NTU campus, and its first 50 researchers will be from Alibaba and NTU. AI applications developed by the institute will be tested within NTU, and across Singapore and Southeast Asia.
Alibaba CTO Jeff Zhang said that Alibaba will spend millions of Singapore dollars over the next five years to fund research projects. Although no specific investment amount was disclosed, a spokesman for Alibaba said the money came from last year’s global research project. Alibaba announced to invest more than $15 billion USD over a three-year period to develop new technology.
Zhang also said that Singapore is an important market for Alibaba’s plans in Southeast Asia. Alibaba currently provides e-commerce, cloud computing and online payment services to Singaporean customers. He also pointed out that Singapore’s renowned research and development institutions, academic talent and government support policy were the basis for choosing to set up the research center there.
Singapore is a city-state of 5.6 million people currently facing problems caused by rapid aging and labor shortage. “With AI technology, we can solve problems due to an aging population and other social challenges,” said Subra Suresh, NTU president. He also added that the partnership was the result of two years of talks with Alibaba.
NTU and Alibaba jointed stated that the partnership aims to “further explore technological breakthroughs and artificial intelligence solutions.” They aim to deploy AI solutions to homes, retail spaces, communities, hospitals and nursing homes over the next five years.
Technologies from both institutions can be used to record and analyze the day-to-day activities of people at home or of the elderly in nursing homes, which can help people monitor or predict problems and provide AI-assisted solutions.
In the medical field, Alibaba introduced its “ET Medical Brain” to facilitate diagnoses and prevention of diseases including tuberculosis and arthritis. Coupled with NTU research in health care, this partnership may lead to technological breakthroughs.
By establishing partnerships, Alibaba hopes to promote university-industry cooperation relying on the strength of university research and Alibaba’s data resources. Presently, Alibaba has established a number of joint laboratories, including the Zhejiang University-Alibaba Frontier Technology Joint Research Center, RISELab (Alibaba and UC Berkeley), Chinese Academy of Sciences-Alibaba Quantum Computing Laboratory, and Tsinghua University-Ant Financial Digital Finance and Technology Laboratory.
Alibaba said it would continue its plan to set up research laboratories in China, United States, Russia, Israel and Singapore. Alibaba is also seeking to establish a massive global research program called DAMO Academy (The Academy for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook) in Singapore. Its partnership with NTU may mean that Alibaba is closing in on establishing DAMO.