July 25, 2024

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Alibaba CEO Eddie Wu reaffirms AI commitment, aims to turn e-commerce empire into ‘open tech platform’

Alibaba Group Holding, the e-commerce giant founded by Jack Ma that changed the way Chinese consumers shop, is remaking itself as an “open technology platform”, riding on a wave of rapid artificial intelligence (AI) innovation, new CEO Eddie Wu Yongming said on Wednesday.

Alibaba is “becoming an open-technology-platform enterprise to provide infrastructure services for AI innovation and transformation in thousands of industries”, Wu told the audience at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, eastern Zhejiang province – an annual gathering of the country’s internet executives and government officials.

It was the first time that Wu, an Alibaba co-founder who took the reins from Daniel Zhang Yong in September, spoke publicly about his vision for the 24-year-old tech giant, which is undergoing a sweeping restructuring to break its sprawling business into six units, including e-commerce, cloud computing and entertainment.

While Alibaba’s e-commerce operations, Taobao and Tmall Group, remain the bread and butter of Alibaba’s business, contributing the most revenues and profits, Wu said the future of the company rests in AI.


Alibaba names co-founder Joe Tsai chairman, in surprise shake-up as Daniel Zhang steps down

Alibaba names co-founder Joe Tsai chairman, in surprise shake-up as Daniel Zhang steps down

“Over the past two decades, China’s digital transformation mainly took place in the consumer internet, and China has become one of the world’s top consumer internet powerhouses,” Wu said. “As AI continues to unleash new productivity, it is key for China to seek new breakthroughs in the digital economy.”

“In the AI era, Alibaba wants to be an open technology platform that serves the entire society in AI innovation and transformation, to adhere to its original mission of ‘making it easy to do business anywhere’,” Wu said.

Wu’s message mirrored a speech last week by Alibaba’s co-founder and new chairman Joe Tsai that highlighted Alibaba Cloud’s goal of turning AI into a major productivity tool, “especially for small and medium-sized enterprises”.
Wu also said in a letter to employees in September, shortly after assuming the CEO role, that Alibaba would sharpen its strategic focus on two main themes: “users first” and “AI-driven”.
Alibaba, owner of the South China Morning Post, is not the only Chinese tech company betting big on AI, but Wu said the company has developed strong capabilities in computing power, networking, storage, big data and large models to provide AI support to different industries.
Alibaba Cloud’s annual Apsara conference. Photo: Handout

Over half of China’s large language models run on Alibaba Cloud, according to Wu, who added that Alibaba aimed to develop an open AI system to “help small businesses and developers innovate at lower costs with higher efficiently”.

Alibaba Cloud released to the public its own answer to US start-up OpenAI’s ChatGPT in China in September, following similar moves by other local competitors that also received the government’s approval to launch commercial generative AI services.

Named Tongyi Qianwen, Alibaba’s large language model is designed to support a wide range of apps and tools in a country where OpenAI’s services, including the latest GPT-4 Turbo model, is officially unavailable.

“In the foreseeable future, all of the products that we have taken for granted will change, and the next generation of smarter products will enter our lives.” Wu said.

“I believe that in the foreseeable future, AI assistants will be ubiquitous in everyone’s work, life and study. Every enterprise will also be equipped with AI assistants to help it adapt to the market.”