Alibaba Group has ambitious plans to serve 2 billion customers worldwide, but where does Jack Ma, the e-commerce giant’s free-thinking executive chairman, plan on finding additional online shoppers should that goal be achieved?
Perhaps Ma can look off-planet.
Alibaba Cloud, Alibaba’s cloud computing arm, is set to provide data storage and analytics services to a super-sized Chinese radio telescope recently completed in Guizhou Province to search for signals from intelligent life in other galaxies, among other more pedestrian scientific pursuits such as learning more about the formation of the universe.
With a dish the size of 30 soccer fields, the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) is a deep-space research facility capable of gathering enormous amounts of data: 50 terabytes in a single day, an amount roughly equal to the data contained in 25,000 high-resolution digital movies.
The challenge is sifting all those bits and bytes to find meaningful information. In a collaboration with the National Astronomical Observatory of China (NAOC), Alibaba Cloud will help develop a cloud-based big-data platform to support NAOC research. There are also plans to establish a big-data astronomical data and research center that would draw information from other Chinese projects including the Guo Shoujing Telescope, which is being used by the Chinese Academy of Science to conduct a 5-year spectroscopic survey of 10 million Milky Way stars and millions of galaxies.
Alibaba Cloud officials said the company is suited for these tasks because of its accomplishments in advanced large-scale computing and artificial intelligence (AI), which promise to speed up the analysis of vast amounts of astronomical data. Alibaba Cloud’s Apsara operating system is a platform that organizes the processing power of millions of servers into a huge computational engine. The company is also harnessing artificial (AI) technologies such as deep learning.
The proposed research center is expected to include an open online database of information about the cosmos that will be available to researchers all over the world. “By combining the strength of the (FAST) telescope and the strength of Alibaba Cloud’s computing technologies, we hope research opportunities as well as astronomical knowledge can be shared with the world.” said Alibaba Cloud President Simon Hu.
Hu’s comments came today during the first day of a four-day cloud-computing and big-data conference that is being co-hosted by Alibaba Group and the city of Hangzhou, China. Attended by some 40,000 cloud-computing developers and business representatives (with an estimated 6.5 million people watching online), the conference is in part a showcase for Alibaba Cloud’s advanced technologies.
Also at the conference, Alibaba Cloud announced a “smart city” project it is conducting with Hangzhou’s city government and a dozen other companies named City Brain. The City Brain project aims to use AI to create a computerized, automated public-services infrastructure that can intelligently adapt to changing conditions to optimize services in real time.
The project is already helping to ease traffic congestion in Hangzhou, Alibaba Group’s headquarters city, by applying Alibaba Cloud’s ET artificial-intelligence software and big-data analytics.
Employing video and image-recognition technologies to analyze traffic conditions, the program is able to predict trouble spots, adjust the timing of traffic lights and determine optimal travel routes in real time. During initial testing in Hangzhou’s Xiaoshan District that began last month, the system boosted traffic flow by up to 11 percent, according to Alibaba Cloud.
Wang Jian, chairman of Alibaba’s Technology Steering Committee, said the project is an unprecedented experiment, one made possible by ongoing rapid advances in computer science. “Computing capacity is not a barrier for innovation anymore,” he said during the cloud-computing conference.
NOW WATCH A VIDEO ABOUT ALIBABA CLOUD’S SMART CITY PROJECT IN GUANGZHOU, CHINA.