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Alibaba on what technology is driving the AI trend

By Yeming Wang | General manager, EMEA

November 21, 2018 | 6 min read

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the debate du jour. Will it prove to be a smart investment or an overhyped flop? Does it really have the power to benefit businesses, or will end up doing more harm than good? Some of the world’s heavyweight thinkers – from Tim Berners Lee to Stephen Hawking – have weighed in on both sides of the debate, cautioning that while we should be optimistic, we must not let the technology run rampant.


AI promises new and improved possibilities for many sectors, and its importance to the broadcast and media industry is evident.

For businesses, AI has taken on an almost mythical status; frequently touted as a panacea to many current IT challenges. This belief has led to a surge in organizations pouring investment into their own AI projects.

Of course, it’s as yet unknown whether AI will live up to the initial hype but at the moment, the enthusiasm surrounding the technology shows no signs of retreat, with IDC forecasting that worldwide spending on cognitive and AI systems will reach a staggering $77.6 billion by 2022.

Almost every sector is trying to get a piece of the AI pie – and the broadcast, advertising, and media sectors are no exception.

What makes the hype around AI so potent is that its available to almost any business. Thanks to the widespread adoption of cloud computing – a significant step-change in the IT industry – even small organizations or start-ups can access the computer power needed to make use of the emerging AI solutions.

Cloud offers infrastructure that is more powerful and agile than anything a business could hope to operate on their own – and as result, AI has been able to thrive in any number of different sectors.

Subsequently, broadcast and media organizations have moved themselves to the forefront of the world’s AI scene – enjoying access to some of the most exciting and pioneering AI innovations. Using everything from face, object and other recognition technologies to enrich metadata and streamline production methods. AI to automatically create highlight packages, through to machine-learning algorithms that help get the right content to the right user, optimizing the whole delivery method in the process.

AI might be the future of the industry but if businesses want to leapfrog the competition they must get started now.

Amidst all the excitement we shouldn’t get carried away. AI is not a silver bullet or cure-all to every challenge your organization will face. Context is everything: AI must serve a purpose, rather than be used to be seen to be keeping up with the latest trend – and this purpose must be defined at outset. And as with every technology, it’s an ongoing process, with the output being measured, refined, and improved.

Just as the rise of cloud computing has allowed the AI sector to flourish, investment in AI is now driving the technical sophistication of the media industry. More complex AI programmes need ever more powerful platforms to sit on – and continued investment in cloud infrastructure is going to be crucial for broadcasters looking to make themselves a prominent force within their industry.

Similarly, improvement in cloud investment will allow the organizations to streamline their infrastructure, driving efficiencies throughout their technology estate – and allowing more resource to moved into the areas that really differentiate them as a business.

Within Alibaba Cloud, our own experiences of using AI have revolutionized day-to-day business - and media is no exception.

During the 2018 World Cup, for example, Youku, Alibaba’s online media branch, used AI technologies to enhance the experience of the football fans. Using an AI-enabled video quality enhancement technology called NarrowBandHD™, video quality was improved while maintaining a low bitrate consumption. It might not sound as glamorous as some of the potentials uses for AI, but it helped deliver a picture-perfect, uninterrupted stream of live World Cup matches to over 20 million concurrent viewers.

Moreover, by directly applying a multimodal AI algorithm –running on Alibaba Cloud –to the live streams, we could generate highlight reels for both matches and specific players. The technology used both visual and audial information, including facial recognition, scene detection, and speech recognition. These videos could then be served to relevant audiences, helping to build engagement.

Artificial intelligence promises new and improved possibilities for many sectors, and its importance to the broadcast and media industry is evident. Of course, this is positive for both the industry and for AI as it will drive progression from both sides, but businesses must understand that to ensure these possibilities are recognized, there needs to be a significant investment in cloud computing in order to drive AI.

What’s positive is that AI’s rise in popularity has indeed driven investment in cloud computing, and we expect this trend to continue rising. The continued use of cloud computing will enable AI to prosper in more mainstream environments such as the advertising, broadcast and media industries, while AI’s popularity will see cloud computing rise to new heights, becoming the first point of call among tech decision makers within these industries.

Yeming Wang is the general manager of Alibaba Cloud in EMEA

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