Alibaba and the intelligent chip: China’s push for self-reliance

Alibaba’s says its new chips are to be used within the company, with no immediate plans to sell it commercially.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd
Alibaba's new computer chip was developed in-house by its research institute DAMO Academy and T-Head, the company's specialised semiconductor division [File: AFP Photo]

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group said on Wednesday it has developed a new chip that specialises in machine-learning tasks and which will be used to enhance services for its cloud computing division.

Alibaba’s foray into the chip sector comes amid efforts by Beijing to promote China‘s semiconductor industry and reduce the country’s reliance on foreign imports of core technologies.

Called Hanguang 800, the company’s first self-developed artificial intelligence chip is currently being used within Alibaba to power product search, automatic translation, and personalised recommendations on the e-commerce giant’s web sites.

“The launch of Hanguang 800 is an important step in our pursuit of next-generation technologies, boosting computing capabilities that will drive our current and emerging businesses while improving energy-efficiency,” Alibaba Chief Technology Officer Jeff Zhang said in a statement.

Alibaba has no immediate plans to sell the chip as a standalone commercial product, a company spokeswoman said.

Overseas tech giants such as Alphabet Inc, which controls Google, and Facebook Inc are also developing their own custom chips, aiming to improve the performance of specialised artificial intelligence tasks at company-operated data centres.

The chip was developed by DAMO Academy, a research institute Alibaba launched in late 2017, and T-Head, the company’s specialised semiconductor division.

Alibaba also released its first core processor IP in July based on RISC-V open-source chip architecture. RISC-V gives firms a potential alternative to the dominant architecture of the United Kingdom‘s Arm Holdings Inc. Arm, a unit of Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp, charges licensing fees for its use.

In cloud computing, Alibaba towers over rivals in China, commanding 47 percent of the market for cloud infrastructure services in the first quarter of 2019, according to research firm Canalys.

Source: Reuters