What will the future of technology be like? To answer this question, 11 leading scientists from Alibaba Group and its affiliate research labs, including researchers with the Alibaba DAMO Academy — the Chinese tech giant’s first major research program focused on developing next-generation technologies — tell us which trends will make the biggest impact in the coming year.
The first challenge of 2018 is machine intelligence (or Artificial Intelligence). As stated by Jin Rong, head of the Machine Intelligence Technologies, Alibaba DAMO Academy: “How to enhance the efficiency of deep learning inference is a critical topic. While previous research has focused either on the optimization of hardware or the improvement of algorithms, future research should place importance on the combined hardware/software optimization to achieve breakthroughs in deep learning”.
Another goal of 2018 is to make machines interact with humans. Nie Zaiqing, leading scientist at Alibaba A.I. Labs, said: “Natural language processing will further improve in 2018—learning and iterating through a huge amount of conversational scenarios to enable more natural language usage and interactions with humans. Machines will be able to understand and react to requests from humans with greater accuracy, which will allow humans to focus on more creative social tasks. It is estimated that the frequency of usage for voice interaction would surpass touch-screen interaction within 5 years”.
Quantum computing is computing using quantum-mechanical phenomena and a quantum computer is a device that performs quantum computing. According to Shi Yaoyun, director of the Alibaba Cloud Quantum Laboratory: “Multiple [research] teams will announce that they’ve achieved “quantum supremacy,” the engineering of a quantum processor that cannot be simulated by classical computers. Much work is to be done, however, to reach the next milestone of solving a practically meaningful problem that can’t be solved classically”.
Another challenge of the future, which we can already see inside our homes, is internet of things. Geoff Jiang, vice president and head of the Ant Technology Labs at Ant Financial, is fairly worried: “The increasing deluge of data generated from IoT devices will push forward the rapid development of edge computing. While edge computing enables advanced on-device processing and analytics and reduces connectivity cost, the ever-growing amount of disparate IoT devices could also lead to security vulnerabilities”.
The latest news for 2018, according to Alan Qi, vice president and chief data scientist at Ant Financia, will be the victory of artificial intelligence chips: the A.I. chips market “is an increasingly heated battleground. A.I. chips that are faster than current central processing units (CPUs) and graphics processing units (GPUs) and are more energy efficient will prevail for both edge and cloud [computing]. Only a handful few of A.I. chip manufacturers will survive and finally win the battle”.