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Alibaba Cloud to bring its AI PaaS out from behind the Great Firewall

Alibaba Cloud has advanced its AI play, introducing a handful of cloud services – some of which it will offer outside China.


China's cloud champ yesterday used its Global Sumit to reveal the PAI-Lingjun Intelligent Computing Service – a platform-as-a-service offering claimed to handle tasks including provisioning infrastructure, accessing public or custom models, providing services such as image and natural processing based on generative AI, and then connecting all of the above to vertical applications.


The service is already running in China, and Alibaba Cloud has pledged it will debut in Singapore "from early 2024, followed by more general availability across Asia throughout the year." Alibaba, the parent of Alibaba Cloud, operates an AI research center in Singapore – its first outside China – which perhaps explains why the city state will be first to get PAI-Lingjun.


China's complex and interlocking data laws, which restrict cross-border data flows, are likely another reason Alibaba Cloud intends to export PAI-Lingjun to 16 regions it operates outside Mainland China.


Alibaba also revealed an AI acceleration offering it said relies on shared GPUs and careful job scheduling to speed AI model training and inference tasks.


Citing Stanford DAWN Deep Learning Benchmark results, Alibaba claimed it can speed up AI model training by 70 percent and speed inferencing by a factor of three. The offering includes specific acceleration solutions for different workloads and scenarios.


Alibaba Cloud hasn't detailed how its cloud delivers that outcome, but its web giant parent is thought to operate more efficiently than even Google. Perhaps whatever tech makes that possible has been applied to Alibaba Cloud's GPUs, too.


Another unveiled offering is LLM-Based Conversational Search – a chatbot-as-a-service based on Alibaba's enterprise OpenSearch. The Conversational version offers a natural language interface to OpenSearch. Alibaba Cloud has already cooked up industry-specific search options for OpenSearch, and they appear to be applicable to the conversational offering too.


On the same day that Alibaba Cloud did the very 2023 thing of announcing AI services, its parent corporation announced the first action in its plan to break up into six entities, by filing [PDF] a proposal to list its Cainiao logistics operation on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.


Cainiao is both a logistics operator with considerable global reach, and a far-flung logistics network platform. The outfit is a key avenue that other Alibaba Group business units use to ship made-in-China goods to the world.


Alibaba Group plans to keep more than half of Cainiao shares, but reckons a float is needed because investors in logistics outfits aren't the sort who buy into the e-commerce and cloud activities that are its main activities.


The filing also suggests that a float will help to focus management at both Alibaba and Cainiao, with both entities emerging able to "improve decision-making processes in response to market changes and increase operating efficiency."


Which is refreshing – at least in a 2023 context – as it doesn't advance adoption of AI as the way to become more efficient. ®

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