The better the cloud, the better the AI — Min Wanli, Vice President, Alibaba Cloud

Alibaba Artificial Intelligence Cloud computing

Ohne die immense Power des Cloud Computings könnte Künstliche Intelligenz sein Potenzial nicht nutzen. Min Wanli (Vice President von Alibaba Cloud) beschreibt dieses Zusammenspiel als „twin-turbo drive engine”.  Auch wenn die Regulatorik einen noch rasanteren Fortschritt im Bereich der Künstlichen Intelligenz bremst, ist Min Wanli ein Befürworter eines bedachten Ansatzes. Warum, verrät er in diesem Interview zum Handelsblatt KI Summit.

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mit Min Wanli, Vice President, Alibaba Cloud

Dr. Min, China has taken the role as global leader in AI innovation. Did China take a different approach to AI than the rest of the world? What role did Alibaba play in this development?

Min Wanli: In my opinion, the approach of AI varies by companies, not by countries. Some companies use AI and machine learning to accomplish a certain task (say develop a voice assistant for in-car infotainment), some companies are looking into more fundamental issues such as general AI vs specific AI, and training AI with reasoning capabilities or common sense. Since we are just at the dawn of the AI development era, and we are still trying to understand better its implications to the society, I don’t think we can define one approach as China’s approach vs the other approach as western’s approach. But we should encourage more open, collaborative and constructive dialogues across the board for the AI development, which will eventually impact people regardless of their country background.

As for Alibaba’s role in this AI development, I want to point out two things: Let me speak from Alibaba Cloud’s perspective. First, I see AI and cloud are a twin-turbo drive engine to make businesses smarter – Without cloud computing we simply wouldn’t have today’s AI capabilities, which rely on enormous reserves of premium data. The raw power offered by cloud computing is what allows organisations to collect, store, process, and analyse data in the volumes now needed. Simply put: the better the cloud, the better the AI. On that note, Alibaba Cloud is working on its own AI solutions, which we call “ET Brain”, a series of AI solutions tailored for different verticals. This comes to my second point. AI is a tool, and one that will only work effectively when it has a clear business aim. Context is everything, and for the best results AI must be directed towards a tangible output. Therefore, in Alibaba, we believe the magic of AI lies on its transformative capabilities in powering different industries including traditional sectors. One case in point is Alibaba Cloud’s Industrial Brain, the AI solution for the manufacturing industry. For example, our solution helped Zhongce Rubber, China’s largest tyre manufacturer, to improve rubber processing compliance rate by 5%.

So by developing cloud computing infrastructure and applying our AI solutions to digitize different sectors, I am glad to say that we are also pushing forward the AI penetration to industry with tangible value creation.

What is „City Brain“? Can you introduce this fascinating project to us in a couple of sentences?

Min Wanli: City Brain in essence is a platform of AI algorithms powered by real-time data flow infusion which provides intelligent coordination of the traffic signal control. It offers urban planners and city officials the tools to upgrade their city governance such as improving real-time traffic management and prediction, providing better emergency services such as ambulances and fire engines. For example, the system helps cut down the travel time of an ambulance by half in Hangzhou, the city Alibaba is headquartered. It also helps reduce the response time of firefighters by 30% in Yuhang district of Hangzhou.

I recently heard someone say: The biggest obstacle of even faster progress in the field of AI is regulation. Do you agree?

Min Wanli: In history, there were many cases where technology’s advancement was limited by rigid regulations. In the case of AI, however, given its enormous potentials and its likely huge impacts on every one of us, I think it is reasonable to take on a more prudent approach. We are still at the dawn of the AI era and there are still a long long way to go before we fully understand the potential of AI . But it is our responsibility also to ensure it is put in good use for the benefits of humankind.

In addition, as said, AI is a tool, and one that will only work effectively when it has a clear business aim. We should also explore real-life scenarios where AI can be deployed to benefit the society at large, not just kept being as a buzzword.