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Alibaba unveils chip developed for AI era

Chinese tech giant Alibaba has unveiled its first chip powered by artificial intelligence (AI) on Tuesday.

The new chip is called Hanguang 800, and according to the e-commerce firm, can optimise computing tasks that would usually take an hour down to just five minutes.

Alibaba told CNBC that the company is not planning to sell the chip as a standalone product. Instead, the Hanguang 800 will be used internally within the company’s business operations.

The firm said the chip is particularly proficient in dealing with tasks that require extensive computing power, such as product search and automatic translation on e-commerce sites, personalized recommendations, advertising, and “intelligent customer services.”

“In the near future,” said Jeff Zhang, Alibaba’s chief technology officer, in a statement, “we plan to empower our clients by providing access through our cloud business to the advanced computing that is made possible by the chip, anytime and anywhere.”

Alibaba’s push into the AI chips market comes after Huawei’s, which last month unveiled the Ascend 910, their own semiconductor chip designed to be used in data centres.

The fact that two of China’s largest tech companies are launching of AI chips shows the country’s aims to grow its own semiconductor industry.

At the moment, Chinese companies heavily depend on American technology for electronics’ components, but the US move to blacklist Huawei and restrict its access to American tech has pushed China to increasingly focus more on chips.

“The launch of Hanguang 800 is an important step in our pursuit of next-generation technologies,” Zhang explained, “boosting computing capabilities that will drive both our current and emerging businesses while improving energy efficiency.”

The chip was designed at the DAMO Academy, a research and development group set up by Alibaba in 2017 with an initial three-year budget of $15 billion to help the company stay at the forefront of new technological trends.

Image via Freepik on flaticon.

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