Chinese Internet mogul Jack Ma has a flair for naming new businesses: Alibaba originates from a character made famous in the One Thousand and One Nights collection of Arabian folk tales; while the company’s R&D arm Damo Academy derives from the name of a Buddhist monk instrumental in the creation of Shaolin Kung Fu.
So it came as no surprise when Alibaba Cloud announced the novel name of its new chip company yesterday at its Computing Conference in Hangzhou. “Ping-Tou-Ge” is a Mandarin nickname for the Honey Badger, a feisty critter native to Africa, Southwest Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. Long a YouTube sensation, the Honey Badger is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most fearless creature.
Ping-Tou-Ge combines Damo Academy’s chip business with Alibaba’s recently acquired chipmaker C-Sky Microsystems, an integrated circuit design company dedicated to 32-bit, high-performance and low-power embedded CPUs. Ping-Tou-Ge will operate independently in the development of its embedded chip series CK902 and its neural network chip Ali-NPU.
The Ali-NPU chip is designed for AI inferencing in the field of image processing, machine learning, etc. It is expected to be some 40 times more cost-effective than conventional chips, perform 10 times better than mainstream CPU and GPU architecture AI chips now on the market, and cut power and manufacturing costs in half. Said company CTO Jeff Zhang, “Alibaba will produce the world’s most advanced neural network chips by the middle of next year.”
Upcoming quantum computing chip
Zhang also unveiled an ambitious timeline for Alibaba Cloud’s quantum technology development, pledging to produce a quantum computing chip in the next two to three years.
The Aliyun (Alibaba Cloud) Quantum Laboratory (AQL)’s Tai Zhang quantum circuit simulator has successfully simulated 81 (9×9) qubits with 40 layers on the benchmark Google Random Quantum Circuit, surpassing the previous best of 49 qubits achieved by a powerful Google quantum circuit simulator at the same 40 layer depth. Tai Zhang can simulate quantum circuits of size 8x8x40 in 2 minutes using just a small portion (~14%) of the cluster, eclipsing previous supercomputer capabilities.
“As Alibaba Cloud develops a digital general-purpose quantum computer, Tai Zhang will play a key role as a tool in developing quantum computers with classical computing resources,” Alibaba Cloud Chief Scientist of Quantum Technologies Yaoyun Shi told Synced. There is still a long road to travel before Alibaba rolls out a truly quantum chip.
City Brain 2.0
Launched in 2016, ET City Brain is a data-driven AI smart traffic platform designed to improve China’s urban infrastructure with capabilities such as natural language processing and voice, image and text recognition. ET City Brain has been widely deployed in China and was adopted in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur earlier this year.
Alibaba unveiled ET City Brain 2.0 yesterday along with the new slogan “Exploring the development of the world’s cities.” The latest iteration will cover an area of 420 square kilometers in Hangzhou City, adding its AI capabilities to 1300 traffic signals and 4500 video lines and cameras.
City Brain system implementation has already improved Hangzhou’s rank from 5th to 57th among China’s most congested cities.
Alibaba 2.0 without Ma
Ma dropped a bombshell last week when he announced he will step down in 2019. Although the Chinese public sympathized with the Alibaba Founder’s decision to re-apply his energies to education, many are wondering how the US$400 billion valued tech giant will look post-Ma.
Starting as a simple e-commerce website, Alibaba quickly ramped up its technology development to compete with global leaders such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Intel, etc. Ma’s creation grew into a tech giant that pioneered new ways for Chinese internet users to shop, travel, entertain themselves, bank, consult with doctors and so on.
The new AI chip operation and projected quantum chip release mark the beginning of Alibaba’s next stage of tech development.
Over 120,000 are attending The Alibaba Cloud Computing Conference, which continues to September 22 in Hangzhou City.
Journalist: Tony Peng | Editor: Michael Sarazen