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Alibaba Unveils Its Self-Developed AI Chip “Hanguang 800”

By Korbin Lan
Published: Sep 25,2019

Alibaba Unveils Its Self-Developed AI Chip “Hanguang 800”

Alibaba DAMO Academy announced that the company has developed a new AI chip named “Hanguang 800”that speeds up machine-learning tasks on its platforms by 12 times the previous rate.

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The Hanguang 800” named “after a legendary sword in ancient China, has been put to use across Alibaba’s e-commerce sites to handle functions that require heavy computing power, such as image analysis, product search, automatic translation and personalized recommendations.

Alibaba Group CTO Jeff Zhang unveiled “Hanguang 800” during his keynote at Alibaba’s annual cloud conference.

“The launch of Hanguang 800 is an important step in our pursuit of next-generation technologies, boosting computing capabilities that will drive both our current and emerging businesses, while improving energy efficiency,” Alibaba Chief Technology Officer Jeff Zhang said during a speech at Alibaba Cloud’s annual Apsara Computing Conference in Hangzhou on Wednesday.

“This is the first time that we’ve used our own self-developed hardware framework, while incorporating our algorithms, in the chip design,” he said. While it can take traditional GPUs an hour to run through and categorize the 1 billion new product images that are uploaded onto Taobao each day, the Hanguang 800 can complete the same task in five minutes.

Alibaba said that while it has no immediate plans to sell the chip as a standalone product, but the Hanguang 800 will be used in the computing arm’s data centers, through which clients can benefit from the enhanced performance.

This is not the first move in the semiconductor space for Alibaba. Last year, in April, DAMO began developing its first chip tailored to machine-learning tasks, which paved the way for the Hanguang 800. Five months later, in September, Alibaba launched a new semiconductor unit, T-Head, to create high-performance yet affordable chips, with the vision of making computing power more accessible for large and small businesses.

The chip division has since released “XuanTie 910,” a processor that reduces the costs of making chips for Internet of Things applications, such as self-driving cars, or the “Wujian” chip-making platform, which brings together everything from design software to developer tools. T-Head (literal translation: “flat-headed brother”) is a nickname for honey badgers, the division’s mascot and an animal known for its tenaciousness.

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