Last week, I attended the Alibaba Cloud Computing Conference, an annual showcase of its latest tech and innovations.
The theme was ‘Empower Digital China’ but also served as a reminder of how powerful Alibaba is. Its roots may lie in e-commerce, but through its machine learning systems and its cloud computing services, it has extended into almost every facet of Chinese life.
Smart retail, hotels, driverless cars, robotics, logistics, payment systems all feed into its vast eco-economic. AliPay, Tmall Genie and Taobao are just three of the brands which are part of the day-to-day life of millions of Chinese consumers.
But perhaps the most interesting part of the business is its machine learning systems that are now gearing to compete with its Western counterparts.
Without a doubt artificial intelligence will spark the next industrial revolution; and Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma predicts in the near future it will, for example, disrupt traditional manufacturing in much the same way as retail was by e-commerce. We will no longer be able to rely on manufacturing to create jobs, was a key part of his message when he spoke at the event.
On this front the Chinese companies in general have an advantage. Machine learning is only as good as the data it can collect - and operating in the vast Chinese market means businesses like Alibaba have a lot more data to crunch.
And it is also better supported by a government that does not have the same privacy concerns as it’s Western counterparts. All of this means that Alibaba, and Chinese AI, has the chance of a better education.
This show was inspirational, exciting and terrifying in equal measure. It underlines that the world is changing and fast.
This film gives a taste of some of the concepts which were on show at the event.