Alibaba has unveiled its first artificial intelligence inference chip, which is also a neural processing unit and is called Hanguang 800, according to a press release. The piece of hardware accelerates machine learning tasks. It was developed by T-Head, which was previously known as Pingtouge (“honey badger”), a unit under the Alibaba Damo Academy.
The tech giant said it is currently using the chip internally in Alibaba’s business operations, especially in product search and automatic translation functions on e-commerce sites, personalized recommendations, advertising, and intelligent customer services. These areas require extensive computing power for the AI tasks to optimize the shopping experience.
“In the near future, we plan to empower our clients by providing access through our cloud business to the advanced computing that is made possible by the chip, anytime and anywhere,” said Jeff Zhang, chief technology officer of Alibaba.
Zhang also said that this is the first chip developed by an internet company and it took only one and a half year, according to online news portal Sina.com. He added that this chip will allow Alibaba to grow in the software and hardware sectors.
Alibaba claims that the Hanguang 800 is the most powerful AI inference chip, outpacing the industry average in computing performance.
In the Resnet-50 industry test, the Hanguang 800 can process 78,563 images per second at its peak — four times more than the present top performer on the market. Its computational efficiency is at 500 images per second per watt, beating the previous top dog by 3.3 times.
For example, around one billion product images are uploaded to Taobao, one of Alibaba’s e-commerce sites, every day by merchants. It used to take one hour to categorize that volume of images and then tailor search and personalized recommendations for hundreds of millions of consumers. But with the Hanguang 800, processing time has been slashed to just five minutes.
Alibaba told KrASIA that the Hanguang 800 is not for sale, but its computing capability is accessible to end users via Alibaba’s cloud computing services.