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Alibaba wants to ship its own neural network silicon by H2 2019

Middle Kingdom calls for international AI arm linkage

Alibaba has created a subsidiary to design and build silicon for artificial intelligence.

The AI business will be called Pingtouge, the Chinese nickname of the small but aggressive honey badger. The chipset, the product of the company's Damo Academy R&D arm, is dubbed Ali-NPU.

The company spoke of its plans at its annual conference, saying the chip will be pitched at image and video analysis – a hot topic in the world's CCTV capital.

Pingtouge said it will be working on neural network chipsets, an area identified by former Google China president Kai-Fu Lee as one in which China could overtake the US in five years.

China's Global Times reported Pingtouge's target is to push out its first AI chipset in the second half of 2019.

Founder Jack Ma Yun sent a statement to China Daily in which he claimed the chipset development was “not for competition but to bring benefits for all”.

Ma has previously expressed his concern that China's technology businesses remain too reliant on American tech, in the wake of the now-reversed ban that brought ZTE to its knees.

Earlier this year, Alibaba acquired system-on-chip vendor C-Sky Microsystems, giving it a bigger footprint in silicon production.

The news comes as China's president announced the country is willing to adopt a more open attitude to its AI development efforts.

In a letter sent to the 2018 World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai, president Xi Jinping said the booming AI sector demanded “deepened cooperation and joint discussions among nations” to resolve issues of law, security, employment, ethics, and governance.

China Daily reported Xi's letter as saying the Middle Kingdom “is willing to share development opportunities” with other countries.

Speaking in person at the conference opening, vice-premier Liu He said China's government will encourage R&D – “zero to one” research – and “beef up efforts to defend intellectual property protection” in AI. Quite. ®

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