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Kuala Lumpur Gets Alibaba AI’s First Brain Implant

Alibaba's cloud computing division Alibaba Cloud announced today that its AI-powered “ET City Brain” will be deployed in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur in partnership with the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), the country's digital economy development agency, and Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL).

Alibaba’s cloud computing division Alibaba Cloud announced today that its AI-powered “ET City Brain” will be deployed in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur in partnership with the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), the country’s digital economy development agency, and Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL). The system uses real-time video collected by street cameras and aims for traffic optimization based on machine learning and cloud computing. The initial phase of the project will be installed at 281 intersections.

This is the first known use of AI in Malaysian urban planning and governance, and ET City Brain’s debut outside China. “Malaysian government officials are very open-minded and rational, they are open to new endeavors, and we have great admiration for them,” said Alibaba Cloud President Simon Hu, who also said he believes Malaysia is on the fast track of digitalization compared to other Southeastern countries such as neighbour Singapore.

Kuala Lumpur traffic is a serious problem — suburban commuters can spend up to two hours navigating the morning rush hour. On a visit to Alibaba’s Hangzohu headquarters last May, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak expressed interest in smart city technology, inviting Alibaba CEO Jack Ma to make it viable in Malaysia. Half a year later the project has landed in Kuala Lumpur.

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“With its massive cloud computing and data processing capabilities, City Brain can optimize the flow of vehicles and traffic signals by calculating the time to reach intersections. It will also be able to generate structured summaries of data, such as traffic volume and speed in particular lanes, which can be used to facilitate other tasks including incident detection,” according to an Alibaba press release.

“In addition, City Brain can connect with various urban management systems including emergency dispatch, ambulance call, traffic command, and traffic light control. By integrating and analyzing real-time data generated from these systems, City Brian can optimize urban traffic flow such as by identifying the quickest route for emergency vehicles to arrive at the scene within the shortest time frame.”


Alibaba Cloud concurrently launched Malaysia Tianchi, a local arm of its (Sky Pool) Big Data Program — a crowd-intelligence platform designed to find solutions to real-world problems. The global platform now has over 120,000 developers, and is used by 2,700 academic institutions and businesses in 77 countries. It’s hoped that Malaysia Tianchi will cultivate up to 500 homegrown data professionals and spin off 300 startups over the next two years.

Operations will be based on the Alibaba Cloud Data Center in Kuala Lumpur, which opened in October 2017 and provides cloud services to local enterprises. Alibaba has already granted Cloud Training & Certification (ACP) credentials to 100 local operators.

While Malaysia marks Alibaba Cloud’s first international real-world application, it won’t be the last. Speaking at the opening ceremony, an optimistic Hu predicted, “In five years, global operations will contribute 40%-50% of Alibaba’s total revenue.”


Journalist: Meghan Han | Editor: Michael Sarazen

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