Alibaba will invest $15 billion into new global R&D program

  • DAMO, which stands for “Discovery, Adventure, Momentum, and Outlook,” will open seven labs in China, Russia, US, Singapore & Isreal

HANGZHOU – China’s largest e-commerce company is spending big money to move past its image as a mere online marketplace.

On Wednesday at its annual cloud computing conference in Hangzhou, Alibaba CTO Jeff Zhang announced the company will launch Alibaba DAMO Academy, a program that will set up research and development labs worldwide. The effort highlights how Alibaba is working to expand beyond Chinese e-commerce, its bread-and-butter, and become a global tech giant capable of competing with the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.

DAMO, which stands for “Discovery, Adventure, Momentum, and Outlook,” will open seven labs: Two will be in China (in Beijing and Hangzhou, Alibaba’s hometown), while the others will be in Singapore, Moscow, Tel Aviv, Bellevue (in the Seattle area), and San Mateo (in Silicon Valley). They will focus on “foundational and disruptive technology research” in areas such as data intelligence, natural-language processing, quantum computing, and machine learning. The labs will publish papers and develop technology that can be used by both Alibaba and third parties.

Funding for the academy comes as part of a larger $15 billion push into R&D that Alibaba has planned for the next three years. That amount represents a near doubling of the $2.5 billion the company spent in “product development” during the fiscal year ended in March 2017.

The announcement comes as Alibaba and other Chinese internet companies continue to look overseas for R&D improvements.