Top Tech Trends to Watch in 2018 from Alibaba Scientists

From artificial intelligence to blockchain, 11 leading scientists from Alibaba Group and its affiliate research labs, including researchers with the Alibaba DAMO Academy—the Chinese tech giant’s first major research program focused on developing next-generation technologies—look at which trends will make the biggest impact in the coming year.




  • “How to enhance the efficiency of deep learning inference is a critical topic. While previous research has focused either on the optimization of hardware or the improvement of algorithms, future research should place importance on the combined hardware/software optimization to achieve breakthroughs in deep learning.”

    – Jin Rong, head of the Machine Intelligence Technologies, Alibaba DAMO Academy


  • “Growing applications of transfer learning in different scenarios [such as virtual customer services, machine translations] will further stimulate the growth of natural language processing. While big data and deep learning are the driving forces behind the progress in the NLP over the past years, we believe knowledge graphs and linguistics will further boost the advancement of the technology.”

    – Si Luo, leading scientist of natural language processing, Machine Intelligence Technologies, Alibaba DAMO Academy


  • “How to deal with noise interference is a critical challenge for a robust voice recognition systems. The goal is to wake up the system with a high accuracy rate, even in a noisy environment with voices all around talking in different dialects.”

    – Yan Zhijie, leading scientist for speech interaction, Machine Intelligence Technologies, Alibaba DAMO Academy


  • “[Computer vision] technology will be increasingly applied in transforming traditional industries, the agricultural sector and environmental protection. Machines may replace humans in dealing with relatively simple, yet labor-intensive, workloads, but people can find their unique value in other new sectors.”

    – Hua Xiansheng, leading scientist for visual computing and associate dean of Machine Intelligence Technologies, Alibaba DAMO Academy


  • “Technology in video understanding and editing will further mature in 2018, leading to progress in precise and personalized search and recommendation; Machine intelligence, especially computer vision, will be widely adopted in various new retail scenarios—upgrading people’s daily shopping experiences in unprecedented ways.”

    – Ren Xiaofeng, chief scientist and associate dean of Machine Intelligence Technologies, Alibaba DAMO Academy


  • “Though reinforcement learning helps advance intelligent decision support systems (IDSS) in some areas, given the complexity of decision making in real-life settings, domain experts are far from replaceable and their inputs are still critical in IDSS.”

    – Zhu Shenghuo, leading scientist of decision intelligence, Machine Intelligence Technologies, Alibaba DAMO Academy




  • Multi-modal interaction including auditory, visual, tactile, and even taste interaction will prevail.”

    – Yan Zhijie, leading scientist for speech interaction, Machine Intelligence Technologies, Alibaba DAMO Academy


  • “However, human-computer interaction, in a general sense, also poses a series of ethical questions, which lead to the emergence of explainable AI and transparent AI.”

    – Zhu Shenghuo, leading scientist of decision intelligence, Machine Intelligence Technologies, Alibaba DAMO Academy


  • “Natural language processing will further improve in 2018—learning and iterating through a huge amount of conversational scenarios to enable more natural language usage and interactions with humans. Machines will be able to understand and react to requests from humans with greater accuracy, which will allow humans to focus on more creative social tasks. It is estimated that the frequency of usage for voice interaction would surpass touch-screen interaction within 5 years.”

    – Nie Zaiqing, leading scientist at Alibaba A.I. Labs


Alibaba is helping Shanghai Metro to improve the experience of subway commuters via AI technology, such as voice-recognition ticketing machines.




“Multiple [research] teams will announce that they’ve achieved “quantum supremacy,” the engineering of a quantum processor that cannot be simulated by classical computers. Much work is to be done, however, to reach the next milestone of solving a practically meaningful problem that can’t be solved classically.”

Shi Yaoyun, director of the Alibaba Cloud Quantum Laboratory





  • “An ever-growing number of smart devices with microphones, cameras, screens and sensors will be rolled out to the market. These devices are internet-connected and equipped with voice recognition and vision computing capabilities that enable human interaction. Intelligent voice assistants will become indispensable as more and more smart IoT devices permeate our daily lives.”

    – Xie Yan, chief architect at AliOS, Alibaba’s operating system for IoT


  • “The increasing deluge of data generated from IoT devices will push forward the rapid development of edge computing. While edge computing enables advanced on-device processing and analytics and reduces connectivity cost, the ever-growing amount of disparate IoT devices could also lead to security vulnerabilities.”

    – Geoff Jiang, vice president and head of the Ant Technology Labs at Ant Financial





“In 2018, the spotlight will be on blockchain technology… Applications of blockchain will leapfrog from proofs of concepts (PoC) to real-world implementations, especially in the areas of financial services and supply chain management. More and more traditional industries will start embracing the technology and re-engineer their business models.

– Geoff Jiang, vice president and head of Ant Technology Labs


AI Labs

A.I. Labs and Taiwan-based chipmaker MediaTek revealed at CES that they have designed bluetooth chips that will allow connected home devices to automatically pair with Tmall Genie.




“[The A.I. chips market] is an increasingly heated battleground. A.I. chips that are faster than current central processing units (CPUs) and graphics processing units (GPUs) and are more energy efficient will prevail for both edge and cloud [computing]. Only a handful few of A.I. chip manufacturers will survive and finally win the battle.”

– Alan Qi, vice president and chief data scientist at Ant Financial