Alibaba announces A.I. chip unit, new Intel IoT edge partnership
Alibaba chair and CEO, Jack Ma – China's wealthiest man.

Alibaba announces A.I. chip unit, new Intel IoT edge partnership

UPDATED Chinese ecommerce and technology giant Alibaba has announced that it is to set up a dedicated chip subsidiary.

It aims to launch its first self-developed AI inference chip, which could be used for autonomous driving, smart city applications, and logistics, in the second half of 2019, the company said this week.

The new subsidiary will make customised AI chips and embedded processors to support Alibaba’s push into cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The company’s aggressive drive to develop its own semiconductors comes as Beijing looks to propel China’s high-tech industries into leadership positions in AI, robotics, and autonomous transport, especially in areas such as healthcare.

A recent report from PwC highlighted the emerging dominance of the services sector in China over the next 20 years, which will lead the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies. According to that report, China will gain 96 million new jobs by 2037, despite the disruption caused by robotics and AI to the existing job market.

In April, Alibaba bought Chinese chipmaker Hangzhou C-SKY Microsystems to help bolster its ambitions. However, this quest for independence hasn’t stopped the company from partnering with chip giant Intel on a new Internet of Things platform.

Alibaba Cloud partners with Intel on IoT

Intel and Alibaba Cloud have announced the launch of the Joint Edge Computing Platform, an open architecture for Internet of Things (IoT) applications that integrates AI and cloud technologies for edge computing.

The device-to-cloud IoT platform offers enterprise customers customisable solutions for different IoT applications, including industrial manufacturing, smart buildings, smart communities, and more.

The Joint Edge Computing Platform is an open architecture for IoT applications that integrates Intel’s software, hardware, and AI technologies with Alibaba Cloud’s IoT products, platform, and OS.

Intel provides processors, silicon acceleration technologies, and software optimisation to deliver the highest computing capacity needed at the edge. It also provides the OpenVino toolkit for expanding computer vision and deep learning data into business insights.

For its part, Alibaba Cloud provides its IoT portfolio, including the Link Edge and AliOS Things products.

Link Edge can be deployed on smart devices and computing nodes at different scales, and provides stable, secure, and diversified edge-to-IoT device connections.

Meanwhile, AliOS Things is an operating system specifically developed by Alibaba Cloud for IoT applications. It aims to provide devices with critical application-management capabilities from the edge to the cloud.

Sources: Reuters, Intel press release

Internet of Business says

Alibaba co-founder and chair Jack Ma – China’s richest man – said in April that China needs to control its “core technology” to avoid over-reliance on US imports.

A number of companies, such as Facebook and Apple, are adopting the same approach internally, to avoid being a hostage to the fortunes and development cycles of chipmakers such as Intel.

As the trade war between the US and China escalates – with all Chinese exports likely to be hit by US trade tariffs – Ma’s comments seem increasingly prescient.

On 19 September, he recanted his promise to bring one million new jobs to the US, blaming the trade dispute. He said, “The promise was made on the premise of friendly US-China partnerships and rational trade relations. That premise no longer exists today, so our promise cannot be fulfilled.”

However, massive partnership opportunities between the US and China still exist, despite the politics at play – as the new deal with Intel, ironically, illustrates.