HANGZHOU: Alibaba, one of China’s internet giants, is taking on its US counterparts on all fronts, from cloud computing to artificial intelligence to smart speakers, thanks to a combination of rapid earnings growth and a huge domestic online population, and government backing for AI as a new economic growth engine.

At its recent Computing Conference, Alibaba announced it would more than double its R&D spending over the next three years to $15bn and was setting up an Academy for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum, and Outlook (DAMO) with seven research labs around the world.

DAMO’s research will cover a range of areas including artificial intelligence, the internet of things, quantum computing and natural language processing.

One US business in particular is in Alibaba’s sights. “We have taken on Amazon on all fronts as our benchmark over past three years,” Simon Hu, senior vice-president of Alibaba Group and president of Alibaba Cloud told the South China Morning Post.

“Some of our products have already exceeded theirs,” he added. His aim is to overtake Amazon Web Services to become the world’s leading supplier of cloud services.

Earlier this year Alibaba also launched its own voice-powered smart speaker, the Tmall Genie, which is similar to Amazon’s Echo device. And while such products are still niche in China, Alibaba is giving them a higher profile by installing them in 100,000 hotel rooms as an “in-room butler”.

Guests can use them to turn lights on and off, change TV channels, book taxis and order room service. Alibaba is also looking to encourage adoption of Tmall Genie by airports and supermarkets.

“We are confident that we can outpace Amazon Echo in growth,” said Chen Lijuan, general manager of Alibaba AI Labs.

The Chinese government, meanwhile, has stated that it sees a major strategic opportunity for the development of AI and to build first-mover advantage in this field.

“Mobile [use] in China is light years ahead of anywhere else,” one tech player told the Financial Times. “So you have a huge experimental lab for exciting AI applications. In China we see different consumer behaviours every day, in the US it’s a lot slower.”

Sourced from South China Morning Post, Tech in Asia, Financial Times, China Copyright & Media; additional content by WARC staff