Alibaba Cloud supporting Digital Transformation across Asia
Alibaba Cloud, the digital technologies and intelligence backbone of Alibaba Group, says it has continued to support businesses across Asia as they have pushed forward with digital transformations to meet the challenges posed by Covid-19.
As well as cloud-based technologies, Alibaba Cloud has also provided talent development support to enterprises during the pandemic to help close the talent gap.
According to Alibaba Cloud's President of International Business, Selina Yuan, throughout 2020 the company has continued to support enterprises in Asia to build up their digital ability and ensure "business continuity in regions that were hard-hit by the pandemic".
She adds: "We believe that digital transformation is not only about the technology, but also the human resources. In view of this, we will continue to work with universities, incubators and partners to roll out more digital training programmes across Asia in 2021 and beyond.
“We hope to help nurture more talent equipped with knowledge and expertise ranging from cloud-based technology, artificial intelligence, data analytics, and ultimately, support the digital transformation needs of various businesses across the markets."
Digital transformation growth across Asia
Alibaba Cloud points to numerous customers across Asia that have leveraged cloud to foster their digital transformation progress and increase efficiency in 2020. Companies include:
- PrestoMall, Malaysia's largest homegrown e-commerce platform, adopted Alibaba Cloud's PolarDB database to power its growth while maintaining cost efficiency.
- Japanese game company enish leveraged Alibaba Cloud's gaming solution. The average data processing time reduced 50% while the server cost reduced 30%.
Alibaba Cloud's technology and industry solutions were also deployed by:
- Investree, leading lending platform for SMEs in Indonesia
- Kumu, livestreaming and entertainment platform in the Philippines
- Luen Fung Hang Insurance, a pioneer in insurance in Macau
Alibaba Cloud commits to digital talent training
Last year, 20,000 participants in Indonesia attended Alibaba Cloud's Digital Talent Training Program. Malaysia saw more than 10,000 IT professionals joining Alibaba Cloud's online trainings, and in the Philippines, the company has committed to train 50,000 and certify 10,000 IT professionals in the next three years.
Digital talent development is a long-term commitment to contribute to local businesses and society, through initiatives including Alibaba Cloud Academy and Alibaba Cloud Academic Empowerment Program (AAEP).
The company also aims to partner with more universities, incubators and non-profit organizations to develop digital skillsets.
Chinese Firm Taigusys Launches Emotion-Recognition System
In a detailed investigative report, the Guardian reported that Chinese tech company Taigusys can now monitor facial expressions. The company claims that it can track fake smiles, chart genuine emotions, and help police curtail security threats. ‘Ordinary people here in China aren’t happy about this technology, but they have no choice. If the police say there have to be cameras in a community, people will just have to live with it’, said Chen Wei, company founder and chairman. ‘There’s always that demand, and we’re here to fulfil it’.
Who Will Use the Data?
As of right now, the emotion-recognition market is supposed to be worth US$36bn by 2023—which hints at rapid global adoption. Taigusys counts Huawei, China Mobile, China Unicom, and PetroChina among its 36 clients, but none of them has yet revealed if they’ve purchased the new AI. In addition, Taigusys will likely implement the technology in Chinese prisons, schools, and nursing homes.
It’s not likely that emotion-recognition AI will stay within the realm of private enterprise. President Xi Jinping has promoted ‘positive energy’ among citizens and intimated that negative expressions are no good for a healthy society. If the Chinese central government continues to gain control over private companies’ tech data, national officials could use emotional data for ideological purposes—and target ‘unhappy’ or ‘suspicious’ citizens.
How Does It Work?
Taigusys’s AI will track facial muscle movements, body motions, and other biometric data to infer how a person is feeling, collecting massive amounts of personal data for machine learning purposes. If an individual displays too much negative emotion, the platform can recommend him or her for what’s termed ‘emotional support’—and what may end up being much worse.
Can We Really Detect Human Emotions?
This is still up for debate, but many critics say no. Psychologists still debate whether human emotions can be separated into basic emotions such as fear, joy, and surprise across cultures or whether something more complex is at stake. Many claim that AI emotion-reading technology is not only unethical but inaccurate since facial expressions don’t necessarily indicate someone’s true emotional state.
In addition, Taigusys’s facial tracking system could promote racial bias. One of the company’s systems classes faces as ‘yellow, white, or black’; another distinguishes between Uyghur and Han Chinese; and sometimes, the technology picks up certain ethnic features better than others.
Is China the Only One?
Not a chance. Other countries have also tried to decode and use emotions. In 2007, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) launched a heavily contested training programme (SPOT) that taught airport personnel to monitor passengers for signs of stress, deception, and fear. But China as a nation rarely discusses bias, and as a result, its AI-based discrimination could be more dangerous.
‘That Chinese conceptions of race are going to be built into technology and exported to other parts of the world is troubling, particularly since there isn’t the kind of critical discourse [about racism and ethnicity in China] that we’re having in the United States’, said Shazeda Ahmed, an AI researcher at New York University (NYU).
Taigusys’s founder points out, on the other hand, that its system can help prevent tragic violence, citing a 2020 stabbing of 41 people in Guangxi Province. Yet top academics remain unconvinced. As Sandra Wachter, associate professor and senior research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, said: ‘[If this continues], we will see a clash with fundamental human rights, such as free expression and the right to privacy’.