The Computing Conference, one of the Alibaba Group’s largest and most renowned events, opened on Sept. 19 in Hangzhou. Executive chairman Jack Ma, as well as his successor, Alibaba’s current CEO Daniel Zhang, both spoke about Alibaba’s future at the main forum on opening day.
Co-hosted by the Hangzhou municipal government, Alibaba Group, and Ant Financial, the conference has already entered its ninth year. Formally the Alibaba Cloud Developers Conference, the Computing Conference rebranded only three years ago in 2015. Known as “Yunqi Conference” in Chinese – a name that roughly translates to “the cloud habitat”, the annual event is permanently held at the Chinese namesake town of Yunqi in southern Hangzhou.
According to Zhang, over 120,000 people will be attending the four-day conference this year from Sept. 19 to 22. The theme this year is “Empowering Digital China” and over 170 sub-forums, talks, and events will be held in Yunqi over the next few days.
Speakers attending the conference include Alibaba’s executive chairman Jack Ma, CEO of the Alibaba Group Daniel Zhang, CTO Jeff Zhang, as well as Simon Hu, the president of Alibaba Cloud, and other key figures in the Alibaba ecosystem.
In the much anticipated keynote speech by Ma, the soon-to-be-retired icon spoke in-depth about “new manufacturing” and the challenges facing the manufacturing industry in the next 10 to 15 years. New manufacturing is one of the five “new” concepts proposed by Ma in 2016, and the only sector that Alibaba has not yet ventured into. The other four concepts include new retail, new finance, new technology, and new energy.
According to the celebrity entrepreneur, the amount of obstacles faced by the traditional manufacturing industry in the next 10 to 15 will be unimaginable by today’s standards. The companies that will survive and come out on top are those who utilize the Internet, Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing and big data to its full capacity. The evolution in ideology and technology will redefine supply chain, consumer market, services and operations.
Alibaba Cloud and the Olympic Games
At the center of the Computing Conference is Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing subsidiary of the Alibaba Group. Founded in 2009, Alibaba Cloud provides a whole suite of cloud computing services to businesses and organizations worldwide.
Alibaba Cloud is now China’s largest public cloud services provider, hosting and providing sercurity services for more than 40% of the websites in China. It is also the second largest hosting company in the world and one of the world’s top three laaS providers just after AWS and Microsoft Cloud, serving 18 economics centers and 49 availability zones globally.
In January of 2017, Alibaba Group became the official “Cloud Services” and “E-Commerce Platform Serivices” partner of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This partnership will last until the year 2028. In particular, Alibaba Cloud will be building the cloud computing infrastructure and provide cloud services including supporting the Olympics’ big data analytical requirements.
At the conference, Alibaba Cloud and Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) announced the OBS Cloud, an innovative broadcasting solution that operates entirely on the cloud. This will provide a sustainable solution to the problem of demanding content production and delivery workflows for the broadcasting of the Olympic Games.
“We are very pleased that Alibaba Cloud has come up with this innovative and powerful approach to Olympic broadcasting,” said Yiannis Exarchos, CEO of OBS. “Tokyo 2020 will be an opportunity for the IOC to champion digital transformation in the media industry, as well as empowering broadcasters around the world with a cloud platform that delivers new possibilities for how the Games are enjoyed by fans around the world.”
Alibaba also announced a collaboration with Intel and OBS to advance the digital transformation of the Games starting from Tokyo 2020.
The 2018 Computing Conference also marks the first year anniversary of the DAMO Academy, which was announced at the 2017 conference in October. The DAMO Academy currently houses over 300 researchers in eight cities around the world. The academy focuses on five major areas, namely AI, data computing, robotics, fin-tech and quantum computing.
CTO Zhang also shared plans of building Alibaba’s own chips in the future. In fact, by the second half of 2019, Alibaba will be presenting its own AI inference chip named the AliNPU, capable of increasing efficiency by up to 40 percent. Additionally, the DAMO Academy will also be building a quantum lab to create a quantum chip in the next two to three years. The vision, as described by Zhang, is the perfect integration of machine computing and quantum computing in the future. Also announced at the conference is the formation of a chip company called Pintouge in Chinese, a nickname for a type of African honey badger popular on the Chinese Internet.
The last announcement made by the DAMO Academy is two programs related to young talents and mathematics. The academy established the Young Fellow program that will grant 100 million yuan of research funding each for PhD graduates under the age of 35, who specialize in information technology, semi-conductors, or smart manufacturing in the Greater China Area. The second announcement is the Alibaba Global Mathematics Competition that opened yesterday. It is a two-day online competition to discover and nurture the next generation of math geniuses and to raise awareness about the importance of this foundational subject.
In addition to all the talks and forums, Alibaba also built a Space Station Exhibition to take visitors into the future. Inside the exhibition are showcases by familiar brands from the Alibaba ecosystem, such as Alibaba A.I. Labs, AliOS, DingTalk, Cainiao, and Hema. Outside of the Space Station is a Tmall building showcasing future e-commerce technologies and a sports game featuring the latest wearable sports analytical devices.