Why Alibaba Is Spending $15 Billion on ‘Disruptive Technology’

Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma
Alibaba founder and executive chairman Jack Ma
REX Features

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is putting a lot of cash behind its goal of serving 2 billion customers and creating 100 million job opportunities over the next two decades.

The Chinese e-commerce giant — which already has around 25,000 engineers and scientists on its staff — announced today its plans to spend $15 billion on research and development over the next three years.

As part of a series of projects that are likely aimed at helping the company outpace its U.S. rivals — namely Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc. — Alibaba will launch a global research program called Alibaba DAMO Academy, focused on disruptive technology.

The academy — which stands for the Academy for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook — will be headed up by Alibaba chief technology officer Jeff Zhang.

Among the major plans, Alibaba said the academy will manage the opening of R&D labs internationally and recruit scientists and researchers to join the program. To start, it will open seven labs — two in China, two in the U.S. and others in Russia, Israel and Singapore — that will focus on “both foundational and disruptive technology” research. In the meantime, it will start the process to recruit 100 researchers from around the world.

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

The labs will also collaborate with high achievers in the technology space and top-tier educational institutions to explore technology breakthroughs aimed at “improving the lives of technology end users and boosting the efficiency and security of enterprises globally.”

Those efforts are already underway: Alibaba said the academy already has plans to work with the University of California, Berkeley through its RISELab in areas such as secured real-time computing.

“Over the past 18 years, we have developed a robust technology infrastructure that supports the rapid growth of our business,” Zhang said. “With our global expansion, we have grown and refined our technology manifold. We are now looking for talented and driven researchers to join us in the quest for new disruptive technologies that would advance our everyday lives, benefit small businesses and narrow the technology gap to make our world a more inclusive place.”

A list of heavy-hitting education and technology innovators make up the academy’s advisory board. Harvard University and MIT professor George Church, Princeton professor Avi Wigderson and Columbia University professor Jeannette Wing are among the board members.