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As Intel and Alibaba team up, why should Jack Ma retire?

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Stock price % change of Alibaba Group, Tencent Holdings and CSI Overseas China Internet Index (CSIOCNI data by YCharts, chart picture from Seeking Alpha)

“Intel and Alibaba Cloud have announced,” quoted from a Hi-Tech news website published on Sep 21, “the launch of the Joint Edge Computing Platform, an open architecture for Internet of Things (loT) applications that integrates AI (Artificial Intelligence) and cloud technologies for edging computing.”

On Oct 1, another Hi-Tech specialist reported that “Alibaba is committing heavily into the R&D of AI technology and its application …”

At this critical moment of transforming Alibaba from a successful B2B, B2C and C2C trading platform to an AI pioneer, Jack Ma, the founding chairman and CEO, said in early Sept that he would retire in a year’s time.

Seeking Alpha says it is a “Shocking Exit: The surprise and haphazard announcement added to the uncertainty in the stock already hammered by the onslaught of trade tensions and harsher regulatory environment on tech companies in China.”

Very briefly speaking, our modern world has gone through numerous sub-stages to become ‘Electrical-Mechanical’ — using electricity to operate heavy machines such as locomotive, aircraft, etc, and then ‘Electronic-Digital’ — chip, computer, mobile phone, etc. Thirty years ago, for example, mobile phone was just a dream. Looking forward, AI, cloning and stem cell technologies will bring humans to another unthinkable world. As it is so exciting, why should Jack Ma quit?

Personally speaking, since AI is a high-risk project which does not guarantee another peak of profitable product cycle, Jack Ma can maintain his magical name, in case it turned out to be a failure, by being distanced from its consequence (Alibaba’s share price falls along with other tech firms without exception, see the chart above). As a commercial genius, rather than a scientist, Jack Ma may not be able to master this project. Furthermore, he may have something more interesting to do (see below).

Nationally speaking, AI is highly politically and militarily sensitive. Israel, for instance, is well known for its splendid success in running the dual mode of developing military and commercially-viable technologies. AI, therefore, is a core theme to the state’s future upgrade in China. Jack Ma’s ‘early retirement’ has two benefits since he has no Communist Party background.

First, someone more trusted by Beijing can fully control the AI project with Alibaba’s gigantic resources and efficient network.

Second, Jack Ma can become, next to the basketball player Yau Ming, another non-political icon of China. Jack Ma will be free to speak his mind, including criticism of Beijing’s policies. His clean and smart image will help diversify China’s image abroad.

Someone may raise a question: “Why American corporations like Intel co-operate with Chinese firms like Alibaba?” Other than money consideration, it is a win-win mentality. China needs American assistance, and Americans need to know how fast or far and what China is developing, with a Washington assumption that China is one of the very few nations on Earth capable of bring AI into real life.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

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