Relive the best moments of the Apsara Conference 2019 at https://www.alibabacloud.com/apsara-conference-2019.
The Apsara Conference is one of Alibaba Cloud’s largest annual events. This year, the conference, launched on September 25 and hosted in Hangzhou, was chuck full of announcements and exciting news. The conference attracted thousands of technical experts, software engineers, and other specialists from around the world, and hosted more than 60 thousand tech practitioners and fans alike.
“Ten years ago, we were still talking about the budding new technologies of cloud computing and big data. Then fast-forward to five years ago, we entered the mobile Internet era. And now we’ve moved on to embracing the era of digital economy,” Daniel Zhang, executive chairman and CEO of Alibaba Group, recalled in his keynote speech.
Through the past ten years, Apsara Conference has witnessed the development of China’s digital economy, with the conference having coincided with many of the major changes and developments of the digital economy in China. So, in China at least, technological innovation and Alibaba have become two things closely associated with each other in the public’s mind.
China’s new economy and all of the social changes that have happened over the past ten years were indelibly shaped by the technological advancements. Technology can come to refine everything that we do. With all of that said, let’s discuss some of the major announcements and news at this year’s Apsara Conference 2019.
Alibaba’s First AI Inference Chip Launched
Pingtouge Launches the World’s Most Powerful AI Inference Chip Hanguang 800
Jeff Zhang, Dean of Alibaba DAMO Academy, unveiled Alibaba’s first in-house AI inference chip, Hanguang 800, during Apsara Conference 2019.
Hanguang, roughly translated as Sword of Light, is named after a legendary sword from Chinese mythology. When tested in the Hangzhou City Brain project, Hanguang 800 chips achieved 10 times the computing power of traditional GPU chips. Next, during a Resnet-50 test, the Hanguang 800 chip’s peak performance is 78,563 images per second, which is four times higher than the next best competition. Its peak efficiency is 500 IPS/W, which is 3.3 times higher than the second-ranked one.
“Alibaba is a new player in the chip industry. The launches of XuanTie (Dark Steel) 910 and now Hanguang (Sword of Light) 800 are only the first steps towards a new chip revolution,” Jeff Zhang said in a statement.
Hanguang 800 is the result of a culmination of both software and hardware development. In terms of hardware, it uses an in-house designed chip that takes advantage of such technologies as inference acceleration, which can help to resolve traditional performance bottlenecks. And on the software side, the chip is integrated with several algorithms developed at the DAMO Academy, which is specifically optimized for convolutional neural network (CNN) and computer vision algorithms, granting the tiny neural processing unit (NPU) the capability to complete the computing operations of a large neural network.
The Hanguang 800 chip has already been applied to some of the core business units of Alibaba Group. At the conference it was revealed that the new chip was used to the City Brian project in Hangzhou with excellent results. Previously, 40 GPUs were needed to process the video feeds generated from the main urban districts of Hangzhou, but the same job could be done with only 4 Hanguang 800 chips. Also, at the same time, with the new chip, latency was reduced from 300 to 150 milliseconds.
The chip was also used to support for the image inventory of Pailitao, the smart image search feature on available on Alibaba’s e-commerce websites. To provide this function to users, Alibaba needs to process up to one billion commodity images daily as platform sellers upload images of their products. The high performance of Hanguang 800 accelerates the entire process, improving the overall efficiency by 12 fold. Traditional GPUs may take one hour to recognize one billion images, but Hanguang 800 can process the same number of images in about five minutes.
An AI service developed based on Hanguang 800 was also launched on the same day during the Apsara Conference. Powered by the new chip, the new service offers a much higher cost-performance ratio than services powered by traditional GPUs.
Connected with these announcements, Alibaba chip subsidiary Pingtouge over the past six months has also launched the XuanTie 910 processor and Wujian SoC chip platform. The launch of Hanguang 800 marks that Alibaba as being well on its way to providing an innovative chip suite for cloud and edge computing-one that covers chip processors, all-in-one chip development platforms, and AI inference chips.
Panel Discussion by Alibaba Cloud’s Three Presidents
Leading the Way to an All-New Frontier of Technology
Alibaba Cloud’s three presidents, Wang Jian, Simon Hu, and Jeff Zhang, were invited to give a panel discussion about digital economy at this year’s Apsara Conference.
During talks, the three presidents reflected on the past 10 years of Alibaba Cloud. Ten years ago, Alibaba invested heavily in the research and development of the core technologies of cloud computing. And now, ten years later, anchored as a cornerstone of China’s budding digital economy, Alibaba Cloud is still firmly invested in continuing its research into new technology, determined to forge on to new frontiers of technology and cloud intelligence.
During the discussion, Wang Jian, Chairman of Alibaba Group Technology Committee, recalled, “Ten years ago, we reimagined cloud as having ‘data’ as its life blood. Today, we also understand that data is a crucial piece of the digital economy, serving as a bridge, which will lead us to future of even greater technological innovations.”
“Data” is where Alibaba Cloud stated its journey into cloud. Through the construction of the massive computing operating system named “Apsara”, Alibaba pioneered what would become China’s cloud era and provided the computing power behind China’s digital economy. Today, millions of customers from more than 200 countries and regions are using cloud computing services and the big data and AI technologies provided by Alibaba Cloud. And in China, more than half of the companies publically listed, and over 80% of tech companies, are Alibaba Cloud customers.
In the past 10 years, cloud computing has greatly surpassed traditional IT infrastructure in both terms of core technologies and in scale of application. Cloud, big data, and AIoT, along with mobile collaboration are bringing forward a new era of innovation and development.
“Alibaba is a technology company, and technology is the future,” Jeff Zhang, Alibaba CTO and president of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, said. He continued by saying, “Today’s technologies are all in development to meet specific demands. A CEO doesn’t necessarily need to understand technology, but he needs to understand technology development trends and the changes of business.”
Hu Xiaoming, President of Anti Financial Group, gave a rather vivid example of the digital economy. He said that with the credit system of Alipay in China you can even obtain a loan even when you’re out somewhere buying a snack from a street vendor. Behind all of this is, of course, the fact that data is refining today’s credit system. The Internet has become a foundamental technology in today’s digital world. And therefore it’s important that we continue to ponder and to promote the development of such technologies and the intelligent application of “data”.
At Alibaba we think that, in the future, cloud computing, big data, AIoT, and mobile collaboration will become the four core technologies of the digital economy. With the dawn of the digital economy, Alibaba Cloud’s focus will broaden from Apsara and the cloud to the entire digital economy, leading the way to an all-new frontier of technology.
Alibaba DAMO Academy Released Its Performance Report in Celebration of Its Second Anniversary
The Academy Has Already 40+ World Firsts
Two years ago, Alibaba announced the launch of DAMO Academy. At the time, Jack Ma outlined three goals that he had for the DAMO Academy: “outlive Alibaba as an institution of innovation and development”, “work to serve a global population of more than two billion people”, and “use science and technology to solve problems of the future”. Many world leading scientists who joined Alibaba’s DAMO Academy are dedicated to developing the foundational technologies of tomorrow.
As of September 2019, DAMO Academy has published nearly 450 articles at global academic conferences, and has won more than 40 world firsts on papers presenting research on natural language processing, intelligent speech, and computer vision algorithms, among other topics. DAMO has quickly become the “technical cornerstone” of Alibaba, gathering up some of the brightest scientific minds in the world, and producing foundational research in crucial areas of science and technology.
Currently, DAMO Academy has partnered with more than 10 IEEE fellows and 30 higher education institution professors. More than half of the scientists in DAMO Academy has doctor degrees from world-class universities.
Recently, DAMO Academy released a report on its research achievements:
As a future-oriented academy of research, DAMO is committed to the promotion and propagation of foundational scientific research, and has held the Alibaba Global Mathematics Competition and presenting the DAMO Academy Young Fellow award to young scholars several years running. The academy has also provided open data resources and application scenarios for young scientists to explore.
Recently, the latest list of the 2019 DAMO Academy Young Fellow award winners has been announced. Ten young scholars were granted this honor after multiple intense rounds of selection. DAMO Academy awards RMB 1,000,000 to each winner and offers complete support for the winner’s research. Among these elites, the youngest winner was a young researcher only 28 years of age.
“By supporting young scholars in the early stages of their research careers, we can stimulate their passions for research and development and increase their dedication to foundational scientific research,” said Jeff Zhang, Dean of Alibaba DAMO Academy. He continued by saying, “Through providing the DAMO Academy Young Fellow award, it is our hope that more people will see the potential of young scientists. They are the future of China’s next generation of innovative technologies.”
Unlike other science awards, besides cash awards, DAMO Academy also provides award winners with free access to Alibaba’s global research and development institutions, as well as research and development resources including data, application scenarios, and the necessary computing capabilities, as well as a team of specialized technical and engineering experts. DAMO Academy is determined to help these young scholars turn their scientific dreams into reality. Zhang Lan, a researcher at University of Science and Technology of China and the winner of the 2018 DAMO Academy Young Fellow award, brought her research into using large data prototype platform for fingerprint-based data traceability out of the laboratory with the help of application scenarios provided by DAMO Academy.
In the end, let’s review the major events in Apsara Conference 2019.