China's E-commerce Giant Alibaba Steps Up to Counter ZTE Sanction

In addition to the new chip, Alibaba also announced today that it will fully acquire local chip designer C-SKY.

CapitalWatch Staff
    Apr 20, 2018 1:33 PM  PT
China's E-commerce Giant Alibaba Steps Up to Counter ZTE Sanction
author: CapitalWatch Staff   

After the United States imposed a seven-year ban on sales by American companies to the Chinese phone maker ZTE Corp., Chinese officials are increasingly concerned about stalling efforts to improve domestic chip design. 

Amid the crisis, China's e-commerce giant Alibaba decided to come to the rescue. The company announced that it is developing its own neural network chip, the Ali-NPU, which will be used in AI applications, such as image video analysis, machine learning, and other scenarios, according to Chinese news outlet Yicai. 

News that Alibaba planned to build "zhong guo xin," a Chinese heart, (the pronouncation of "Xin" can be "chip" or "heart") widely spread in the Chinese social media platforms Weibo and WeChat Moment last night. Chinese netizens praised Alibaba's "heroic" gesture to fight against what they believe are unfair sanctions by the U.S.

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According to the company, the Ali-NPU chip will have a special architecture with 10 times better performance than mainstream AI chips based on CPU or GPU architecture, while the manufacturing cost and power consumption were only half those. This would make the chip's performance-to-price ratio 40 times that of current products on the market.

The chip is being developed by Alibaba's R&D institute, the newly founded DAMO Academy, as part of Alibaba's wider push into cutting-edge tech. It said it plans to attract talent by opening centers in seven cities around the world.

In addition to the new chip, Alibaba also announced today that it would acquire local chip designer C-SKY, according to Tencent News, in an attempt to build a powerful "China chip" soon. 

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"Acquiring C-SKY is an important step for Alibaba's microchip layout," said Alibaba's chief technology officer Jeff Zhang.

Hangzhou C-SKY Microsystems is an integrated circuit design house. The company has developed seven types of CPUs covering applications including IoT, digital audio and video, information security, network and communications, industrial control and automotive electronics.

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