Alibaba Group Holding Ltd announced on Wednesday the launch of a global research academy that it hopes will join the ranks of, and potentially outrival, Bell Labs and Microsoft Research.
The investment of 100 billion yuan (S$20.5 billion) over three years in the Alibaba DAMO Academy takes the internet giant one step closer to fulfilling its ambition to serve 2 billion people in two decades, said chairman Jack Ma.
During the company's annual computing conference in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, Ma said the investment will help it get a head start in the internet of things, quantum computing, fintech and human-machine interaction.
At this point in the group's development, Ma said it is imperative to have a research body to solve problems facing people, economies and broader society.
"Backed by Alibaba's vast resources, the academy needs to outlive Alibaba … and ought to shoulder the responsibility to serve the whole of society," he said, adding that the academy will need to finance itself in the long run.
The name DAMO stands for "discovery, adventure, momentum and outlook". The word is often depicted in Chinese martial arts fictions as an avenue in the Shaolin Monastery where masterful monks practice skills and experience enlightenment.
The project includes opening seven new research labs in China, the United States, Russia, Israel and Singapore, recruiting related talents on top of its 25,000 engineers and scientists.
Chief Technology Officer Zhang Jianfeng will head the academy, assisted by a global advisory board that includes some of the world's technology luminaries, such as George Church, a leading light of the Human Genome Project, as well as Michael Jordan, a mastermind in artificial intelligence.
The firm will also tie-up with over 200 universities and research institutes worldwide to co-develop technologies that aim to improve the lives of technology end-users or boost business security and efficiency.
The company has spared no efforts to boost its technology arsenal. In March, it established independent research and development teams in a plan dubbed NASA to focus on foundational and disruptive technology research.
The company is particularly delving into consumer-facing solutions.
Alibaba's payment affiliate Ant Financial unveiled a biometric identification technology open platform dubbed ZOLOZ, through which organisations can apply Ant's facial recognition, human-machine interaction, and other technologies to a variety of business and civic scenarios.