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Chinese tech giants open cloud computing technology to researchers amid coronavirus emergency

The fast-spreading virus has infected over 9,600 people and claimed 213 lives in China.

Photo: Tuchong

China’s top three tech giants—Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent—have opened their artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing technologies to researchers for free, aiming to accelerate the research and development (R&D) process of new drugs and vaccines for the coronavirus.

Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing division of Alibaba, will offer its technology, which can be used in viral gene sequencing, protein screening, and other research efforts, for free to research institutions, to help with research on potential treatments for the disease, said the company on Wednesday.

Alibaba Cloud has also joined forces with the Global Health Drug Discovery Institute (GHDDI) to develop an AI-based drug R&D and big data platform, which will provide data to scientific research of the coronavirus by analyzing and integrating historical medical data of other coronaviruses including SARS and MERS.

Baidu and Tencent joined the battle on Thursday. Baidu announced free access to its AI algorithm to epidemic prevention centers, gene testing institutions, and global scientific research institutions. The algorithm, dubbed LinearFold, will speed up the viral genome secondary structure prediction 120 times, which could enhance research efficiency to try to find a cure for the virus, said the company.

Tencent’s cloud computing division, Tencent Cloud, has formed an emergency group to offer its cloud computing capabilities at no cost, aiming to escalate research on vaccines and new drug screening. The tech giant said in a statement that it has provided free cloud computing solutions to research teams from Beijing-based Tsinghua University and Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong province.

The fast-spreading epidemic in China caused by the new virus has already claimed 213 lives and infected over 9,692 people as of 12 a.m. local time on Friday, according to Chinese officials. More than 15,000 patients are currently under observation. Cases have also been reported in 18 other countries including Thailand, Singapore, Japan, and the US.

A wave of Chinese tech firms have implemented various measures to further curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus, including donating money and medical supplies to the most heavily impacted regions, as well as allowing employees to work from home.