Looking for pragmatic solutions to serious problems
Alibaba Damo Academy is the only hybrid research and development (R&D) facility. Founded in 2017 in Hangzhou, China, it is an independent academically run scientific organization. Alibaba is a research partner of its founder of the Chinese internet technology giant. The pipelines for the development of Damo projects revolve around the development of data-enabled technologies to address basic business and social challenges such as easing traffic congestion in mega-cities and staff productivity in logistics. But the approach to solving these underlying problems is focused on commercialization-based principles and development, as Damo’s leaders believe they help shorten their development cycle and improve the effectiveness of their scientific research.
Damo’s focus on R&D is a key principle linked to an even deeper strategic goal: that the academy must transcend Alibaba in order to be a sustainable, sustainable and independent developer of all of the team’s technology innovations. However, as Damo grows out of the “shadow of the Alibaba tree” (paraphrasing one of the favorite metaphors of Jack Ma’s founder), parenting is paramount to success: the technological and operational challenges of Alibaba’s business ecosystem are Damo’s source of inspiration.
Damo classifies its technological projects as “emerging” (cutting-edge technology), “mature discussion” (market technology) and “commercialized” (ready to be produced). Some “commercialized” and “mature discussion” projects are closely linked to Alibaba’s technology development processes through an honest R&D circuit through frugal innovation that uses light, scalable, and distributable development resources to bring concepts to market quickly. More than 80% of the projects carried out by Damo’s Voice Recognition Lab, for example, take their applications to the cloud.
Among such applications is AI-enabled medical imaging technology, which Damo says can perform clinical examinations of coronary pneumonia in two seconds and provide a full diagnosis with 99% accuracy in 20 seconds, which helps hospitals greatly speed up the diagnostic process. A robotics division in Damo is testing an autonomous logistics robot for the last kilometer, inspired by the growing tension in China’s growing demand for e-commerce in door-to-door delivery services. The robot can deliver more than 500 kilometers a day with four kilowatt-hours of electricity, navigating complex road and urban conditions and separating pedestrian and vehicle action.
Big brains for big city problems
Other Damo projects seek to address organizational and social challenges through multi-functional programs between multi-application programs. A prime example of this is projects that use natural language processing processes in digital assistants that Damo processes natural language to increase operational efficiency in businesses. The ability of office-based smart speakers to go beyond the fairly common interactions consumers have with their devices (enough verbal commands to search the Internet or navigate e-commerce sites to a large extent), Damo has developed a prototype tool for analyzing natural conversations. ting wu (To hear and understand Chinese). It is designed for listening to meetings with multiple participants and will explore discussion patterns to create informative synopses and assign post-meeting action items.
Damo’s speech model has also been used to develop a simultaneous translation service for AliExpress (Alibaba’s global retail market), which is embedded in a customer engagement platform and allows participating merchants to translate from Chinese to English, Russian, Spanish and French. The service was launched last year at the Alibaba worldwide trade festival (also known as Singles Day) on November 11, and Damo reported that 70% of its merchant customers used the service. The technology was also used for the company’s customer service Alime chatbot, which served more than 50 million active users at the company’s Taobao and Tmall e-commerce sites on Singles Day.
Based on the ground, but reaching the clouds
Instead of being guided by key formal performance indicators, R&D management is defined in five top terms, according to Alibaba Group Vice President Xu Yinghui and head of Damo Vision Lab, all of which are based on the practical innovation of the academy. “The first is scalable: we want all our apps to have a big impact, and it doesn’t make sense to keep things in a demo state. The second is interpretable: we need to turn the black boxes of algorithms and other tools into white boxes. The third is speed, then availability and then public benefit. – so that as many people as possible can enjoy the technology, ”says Xu.
Jin Rong, vice president of the Alibaba Group and director of Damo’s Machine Intelligence Lab, believes the academy’s “demand-driven” R&D approach sets it apart from other research institutes. “Good technologies must have application solutions and solve practical problems effectively — not just technological, organizational, or operational. Projects are tailored to specific market needs, and research and development results are quickly implemented in business and application scenarios, ”says Jin.This concludes with a production process that“ technology accumulates as soon as possible on our cloud platform, ”ensuring wider scalability and accessibility. also ensuring cost-effectiveness – “controllable cost engineering,” in Alibaba’s speech. “Sooner or later it’s an issue, but not yes or no,” Jin says.
In this sense, Damo’s cost and time reductions encourage innovation: for the business of projects to be viable, cost-effectiveness must be included in the thesis. Although Damo’s AI research is in-depth and meaningful, free-wheel experimentation that does not link to practical applications is wrong. “First and foremost, an idea needs to persist in itself in the real world, rather than in the mind itself,” says Hua Xiansheng, head of the academy’s City Brain Lab. According to Damo’s leaders, this ethos has prompted the academy to immediately advocate for many advanced projects in broader basic sectors such as new IT architecture and autonomous driving, and in industrial applications such as healthcare, logistics, transportation and education. Driven by solving deep, evil, and socially significant problems, but with embedded pragmatism, Damo wants to continue to grow away from his parents ’shadow.
This content is produced by Alibaba Damo Academy. It was not written in the editorial board of the MIT Technology Review.