Live Updates from Alibaba’s Computing Conference 2017

We’re at the Yunqi Town International Exhibition Center this week for a conference so big and influential, it’s called simply, “The Computing Conference 2017.” From Wednesday, Oct. 11 to Saturday, Oct. 14, it will be the hottest event in Hangzhou, the city where Alibaba is headquartered. Stay with Alizila and this live blog to keep up with the key happenings as they happen.

Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017

5:30 a.m.

Alibaba Group is upgrading its operating system strategy to focus investment on the burgeoning Internet-of-Things (IoT) sector. As part of the move, Alibaba is rebranding its YunOS operating system as “AliOS,” an operating system offering OS solutions for mobile, industrial and IoT devices. Read the full story here.

Friday, Oct. 13, 2017

8:15 p.m.

To truly understand the size and scale of “The Computing Conference 2017,” you really have to be here.

We’ve never seen such a vast, action-packed four-day event. It’s impossible to attend every session or cover it gavel-to-gavel. And the event makes you realize how broad and deep Alibaba goes into the tech sector, from cloud and quantum computing to AI to medical technology, blockchain, VR and AR, gaming and too much more to put the full list here.

There were hi-tech exhibition halls, keynotes from industry leaders and, taking a break from the computing theme, even a music festival and nighttime run.

To get a sense of just how big “The Computing Conference 2017” is, here’s a snapshot of the event by the numbers, courtesy of Fliggy, Alibaba’s travel services platform. The infographic below is in Chinese, for those who read it.

Around 40,000 people are attending the event, which ends Saturday, in Hangzhou this week. Of the participants, 75.8 percent are male and 24.2 percent female. Some 70 percent work in the Internet sector, with Millennials comprising the majority. Nearly 80 percent of the registrants were born after 1980. It’s attracting a lot of international attention, too, with thousands of overseas visitors from five continents, 67 countries and regions.

The venue, covering a total area of 60,000 square meters (645,834 square feet), is hosting 800+ speakers at 20 summits and over 120 forums.

Fliggy did a survey of hotels in a seven-mile radius around the venue before the event, and found room reservations in nearby hotels increased 194 percent year-on-year and were 96 times the number of bookings made in September.

Infographic: Click to see full version of The Computing Conference 2017 By the Numbers (Chinese)

Computing Conference

7:45 p.m.

quantum

Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Alibaba Group, is taking steps to spur the development of commercial applications for quantum technology. The Chinese tech giant recently announced it has named prominent scientist Shi Yaoyun to head the company’s quantum computing efforts. Read the full story here.

Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017

12:45 p.m.

Computing Conference

Red Hat, the world leader in open-source software solutions, is moving onto Alibaba Cloud, Alibaba’s Cloud Computing arm.

Per an agreement unveiled Thursday morning, Alibaba Cloud will become Red Hat’s certified cloud service provider and Red hat customers will be able to move eligible Red Hat subscriptions from their data center to China’s largest public cloud service provider, while maintaining service support from Red Hat.

Alibaba Cloud said, in the coming months, customers can gain direct access to Red Hat’s open source solutions and be offered the Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system in a pay-as-you-go model in its marketplace.

The tie-up meets rising demands from Chinese companies looking to enhance their application environments with solutions offering greater agility, said Yeming Wang, deputy general manager for Alibaba Cloud Global, adding that Red Hat’s “full-lifecycle, flexible solution” can help enterprise customers do just that.

Alibaba Cloud will be joining Red Hat’s Certified Cloud and Service Provider Program, designed in 2009 to enable better planning, building and managing solutions and technology for validated cloud providers.

“Our customers not only want greater performance, flexibility, security and portability for their cloud initiatives; They also want the freedom of choice for their heterogeneous infrastructures. They want to be able to deploy their technologies of choice on their scalable infrastructure of choice,” said Mike Ferris, Red Hat’s Vice President of Technical Business Development and Business Architecture.

“By working with Alibaba Cloud, we’re helping to bring more choice and flexibility to customers as they deploy Red Hat’s open source solutions across their cloud environments,” he said.

12:30 p.m.

Computing Conference

Traditional internet security protocols are not enough to defend against new threats surfacing today, said Larry Xiao, senior director of Alibaba Cloud Thursday.

That’s prompting the need for not only the best security products, but also strong operations—including talented teams that monitor meticulously to identify loopholes and instantly analyze and react

“An excellently developed product is the weapon, but it’s more than purchasing the best firewall or product,” said Xiao. “Actions and research conducted by a strong operations team is key to security.”

At the end of his keynote, Xiao unveiled a new product for enterprise customers, called the Enterprise Cloud Security Compass—which he said leverages Alibaba’s leading public cloud security capabilities to offer customers comprehensive security from the basic infrastructure level to encrypting data and information.

12:08 p.m.

Computing Conference

Ku Wei, GM of Alibaba Cloud’s Internet-of-Things business, just laid out what the company envisions for the era of Internet-of-Things (IoT). The ambition is clear: Within five years, the company’s computing arm aims to link and computerize 10 billion devices in the world, provide 1 million solutions and provide the technological infrastructure to support more than 1 million developers.

The golden age of personal computers has passed, and so will the mobile Internet boom, Ku said. Alibaba Cloud has its eyes set on the next big thing, taking steps to prepare for the “dawn of IoT.” Ku said the key to moving the world’s technology and internet industry forward will be solving customer’s largest pain points, which he said are application development, systems integration, the difficulty in replicating results and security.

“We are positioned as an infrastructure builder, opening up our data, artificial intelligence and cloud computing capabilities, as well as our expertise in payment, finance and logistics technology in a stable, reliable and cost-efficient platform developers,” said Ku.

Ku hinted that on Friday the company will formally announce the launch of a new operating system brand, AliOS, expected to better integrate the company’s analytics and processing capabilities—and how it ties in to Alibaba’s wider IoT strategy.

10:19 a.m.

Computing Conference

The year is 2050, and the invention of “anti-gravity engines” has led to unmanned balloons becoming the preferred logistics solution. Because of the U.K.’s complex meteorological conditions, the balloons are sometimes delayed, damaged or destroyed by weather. That causes delivery disruption and loss.

That’s the scenario Alibaba Cloud and the U.K.’s national meteorological service, called the Met Office, are posing to intrepid data scientists from around the world in a data-mining contest. They’re asking participants to develop algorithms to plan flight routes for these balloons. The challenge is how to navigate the endless variation and changeable nature of weather across the U.K. to optimize the balloons’ delivery schedules and costs.

“We are excited about hosting the competition with the Met Office. We share a vision to develop solutions that can solve real-life universal problems. This competition will challenge the participants in a scenario with real-life factors to test both their technological capability and creative thinking. We look forward to receiving innovative solutions from data talent around the world,” said Min Wanli, Data Mining Scientist, Alibaba Cloud.

Computing Conference

Contestants will tap public meteorological data provided by the Met Office in categories such as rainfall and windspeed. Changing temperatures, rainfall, wind speed in area grids of four square kilometers and five-minute time intervals will challenge the balloons’ resilience. That will be overlaid with data for the balloons, including takeoff and landing spots, maximum flight time and speed, as well as a set of limiting factors, such as collision-avoidance parameters. Models and algorithms will be tested accordingly by contestants.

The challenge will run on Tianchi, Alibaba Cloud’s global big data crowd intelligence platform. And the team that arrives at the best solution will win US$10,000 in cloud credits and get an internship opportunity at the Met Office.

Over 90,000 developers and 2,600 academic institutes and businesses from 71 countries and regions belong to the Tianchi community. Via competitions like this, Tianchi pools the collected wisdom of data experts from around the world and leverages the expertise of Alibaba Cloud data scientists to develop professional solutions for smart manufacturing, transportation and logistics.

The KDD Cup 2017 competition on Tianchi, also called the “Data Mining Olympics,” saw 3,582 teams work to develop solutions to predict the traffic glow of highway tollgates.

8:30 a.m.

Computing Conference

Day two of “The Computing Conference 2017” is ahead. We got here early, ready for a busy morning with presentations covering everything from Alibaba’s Internet of Things strategy to how to make data intelligent. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017

2:58 p.m.

Computing Conference

Wang Jian’s keynote offered an update on what’s happening with Alibaba’s “City Brain” project.

Data is transforming the way residents travel around Suzhou, said the Chairman of Alibaba’s Technology Steering Committee. The City Brain project in the Chinese city uses artificial intelligence to redesign the way busses are routed, aiming to induce more people to take public transport. Two rearranged routes saw passenger numbers increase by 17 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

The City Brain project, first launched in the company’s hometown Hangzhou during the 2016 Computing Conference, aims to use AI and cloud computing technologies to help the city “think,” allowing it to automatically process analytics and optimize public services in real time.

“In Hangzhou, we have 1.2 million vehicles traveling on roads every day, with 50 percent that pass through highways. The Hangzhou City Brain has reduced 10 percent of the time required to travel on highways, the equivalent of saving time for half of those 1.2 million drivers,” said Wang.

“The City Brain initiative will become an important urban infrustructure for cities of the future,” he added, “allowing city data to be processed and analyzed in real time, and ultimately, leading to more intelligent distribution of public resources.”

12:02 p.m.

Computing Conference

Just a short while ago, Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma took the stage to deliver his keynote at “The Computing Conference 2017.” In front of a packed house, Ma laid out his hopes and vision for the Alibaba DAMO Academy announced a few minutes earlier by CTO Jeff Zhang. Surprisingly, Ma said he only green-lighted the Academy two weeks ago, after resisting calls for years to follow in the steps of IBM, Microsoft and other tech giants by opening an Alibaba research academy. Read the full story here.

10:20 a.m.

Computing Conference

Exciting news just now from Alibaba Chief Technology Officer Jeff Zhang, announcing the launch of a $15 billion global research program.

Over the next three years, the Alibaba DAMO Academy will open seven research and development labs around the world, looking to increase technological collaboration and advance development of cutting-edge technology. The Academy also has inclusiveness at its heart, with a goal of narrowing the world’s current technology gap.

“The Alibaba DAMO Academy will be at the forefront of developing next-generation technology that will spur the growth of Alibaba and our partners. We aim to discover breakthrough technologies that will enable greater efficiency, network security and ecosystem synergy for end-users and businesses everywhere,” said Zhang, who was speaking at Alibaba’s annual computing conference.

“DAMO,” in case you’re wondering, stands for “discovery,” “adventure,” “momentum” and “outlook.” Zhang will head the academy and be helped by a star-studded global advisory board that includes some of the world’s top researchers and educators.

The Academy will recruit talented scientists and researchers, who will delve into both foundational and disruptive technology research. Its research areas will cover data intelligence, the Internet of Things, fintech, quantum computing and human-machine interaction. Within those areas, you’ll see a focus on such real-world applications as machine learning, network security, visual computing, Natural Language Processing, among others.

The Academy will open seven labs in Beijing, Hangzhou, San Mateo, Bellevue, Moscow, Tel Aviv and Singapore. It’s initially seeking to recruit 100 talented researchers from around the world.

You can expect collaboration with technology luminaries and top educational institutions, targeting breakthroughs that will improve the lives of technology end-users or that boost the efficiency and security of businesses. The Academy will, for example, cooperate with UC Berkeley, via its RISE Lab in areas such as secured real-time computing.

The Academy is a first major global initiative from Alibaba, reaching outside its own 25,000 engineers and scientists on staff to focus on developing the global technological capabilities and infrastructure.

That’s part of how it intends to reach its goal of serving two billion customers and creating 100 million job opportunities in 20 years.

9:00 a.m.

facial recognition

How do you know when you’re at an Alibaba technology conference? When you use facial recognition to get in the door.

We’ve seen some cool things from Alibaba, but this – at an event with over 40,000 attendees – is an ambitious first.

To sign up for the “The Computing Conference 2017,” participants had to submit a passport-type photo or arrive with their government-issued ID. To claim their entry badges, facial-recognition had to first verify their identity against that ID photo.

Facial-recognition technology is a centerpiece of Alibaba’s secure identification strategy and operations.

Alibaba used facial-recognition technology to verify staff entry at its 18th-year anniversary celebration in September. And its Ant Financial affiliate earlier this year launched a commercial “Smile to Pay” service at a restaurant in Hangzhou for users of its Alipay payment platform.

On the user end, scanning takes one to two seconds. Behind the scenes, a 3D camera and a live-ness detection algorithm, which can detect shadows and other features, verify the person’s identity.

6:00 a.m.

Just as the Chinese National Day “golden week” holiday came to an end, over 40,000 industry leaders, technology professionals and developers from 58 countries have descended on Hangzhou for what will be the conference of the year for many. The city is host to one of the largest tech events in China: Alibaba Group’s annual cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI) conference. There’s a lot going on over the next several days, with Alibaba sharing developments and advances in its technology ecosystem with the broader global computing community

The Hangzhou conference is the largest of many held across major Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Beijing, Shengzhen, Chengdu, Suzhou, Guangzhou and Nanjing. This event is the annual focal point of China’s cloud computing.

Last year’s conference attracted 40,000 industry leaders, technology professionals and developers from 58 countries and markets. Another 9.3 million people watched the live broadcast over the internet.

This year’s event is likely to set a number of new records for attendance and other elsewhere. The four-day event features more than 800 industry experts and thought leaders, including Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma and Chief Technology Officer Jeff Zhang. The Computing Conference comprises two plenary sessions, 22 summits and 110 forums, covering the hottest topics in tech, including artificial intelligence, blockchain, big data, quantum computing, DevOps and the Internet of Things (IoT).

It’s also showcasing Alibaba’s technological prowess and robust ecosystem, as the Chinese e-commerce giant sheds light on its role as a rising global powerhouse in cloud services. Gartner’s latest report showed Alibaba’s cloud computing arm, Alibaba Cloud, is now the number-three player in the global infrustructure-as-a-service market, seeing related revenue rise by 126.5 percent between 2015 and 2016—climbing from $298 million to $675 million. Its growth is driven by its crushing performance in China, accounting for 40.67 percent of the cloud computing market in 2016, according to IDC figures.

If the past is any guide, you can expect major announcements from the event, including new collaborations with international brands and organizations, as well as discussion about the company’s next stage developments in AI—in various verticals, such as the ET City Brain and ET Industrial Brain programs—IoT and other advanced technologies that form the backbone of Alibaba’s cloud-computing services.

Started in 2009, the Computing Conference has grown from a technical forum for 200 local web developers to one of the most influential technology exhibitions in the world. Dubbed an annual “carnival for techies” by local media, the conference is known as a celebration of builders and makers. Today, it is also seen as much more—a platform that drives innovation and a spirit of collaboration in the technology ecosystem.

The conference kicks off in about three hours from now. Come back to this live blog for regular updates throughout.