Despite the uncertainties occasioned by COVID-19 and US trade sanctions, Chinese tech giant Alibaba has set its sights on serving 2 billion consumers globally.

“Our next goal is to serve more than 1 billion consumers in China and facilitate more than RMB10 trillion of consumption on our platforms in the next five years as we continue on the path of globalization,” said chairman and CEO Daniel Zhang in a letter to shareholders.

“Our longer-term goals are to serve 2 billion consumers globally, create 100 million jobs and provide the necessary infrastructure to support 10 million small businesses to become profitable on our platforms by 2036,” he continued.

The company’s three strategic pillars – globalisation, growing domestic consumption and big data powered by cloud computing – remain unchanged, Zhang added.

But it faces potential problems in a couple of those areas. Alibaba is not immune from the sort of sentiments that have affected the operations and ambitions of Chinese companies like Huawei and TikTok, under fire in various parts of the world over what they do with the data they collect and their alleged closeness to the ruling party in China.

Data privacy is also emerging as an issue domestically. Xue Lan, director of the National New Generation Artificial Intelligence Governance Committee, told the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai on Friday that regulations on the ownership and use of data needed to be improved.

“Data governance is a major challenge we are facing in this era, not only in the field of artificial intelligence but also in platforms with more extensive information applications,” he said.

With more than 900 million internet users, the data they generate is crucial to China’s lead in AI, where the big three of Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are all players.

Meanwhile, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, addressing the same conference, highlighted how the use of tech like AI can be used to benefit humankind: an Alibaba-developed algorithm, informed by data from thousands of computed-tomography scans and trained by deep learning, is able to accurately detect the COVID-19 virus in 20 seconds, greatly shortening the time it takes for doctors to review CT scans, confirm cases and move on to treatment and supportive measures.

“Technological transformation will come earlier and its speed will accelerate. We need to be ready,” he said.

Sourced from Alibaba, South China Morning Post, Alizila