Alibaba Group Names Chip Subsidiary After Notoriously Fierce Badger
Nadia Krieger posted on September 27, 2018 |
Alibaba CTO says the “Ping-Tou-ge” (honey badger) has “great intelligence” and “isn’t afraid of anything.” (Image courtesy of a viral honey badger YouTube video.)
Alibaba CTO says the “Ping-Tou-Ge” (honey badger) has “great intelligence” and “isn’t afraid of anything.” (Image from viral honey badger YouTube video.)

One of the biggest businesses in China is getting into chips, and not just any chips. The e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba Group announced a new subsidiary to specifically build artificial intelligence (AI) inference chips, which it aims to have on the market by mid-2019.

The new subsidiary has been christened “Ping-Tou-Ge,” which is a Chinese nickname for the honey badger, the same animal that starred in a viral YouTube meme in 2011. Although it remains unclear if the Alibaba executives are aware of the video, according to Chief Technology Officer Jeff Zhang, the notorious ferocity of the animal was definitely a factor that went in to choosing this quirky name.

“Many people know that the honey badger is a legendary animal: it’s not afraid of anything and has skillful hunting techniques and great intelligence,” Zhang explained during the Alibaba Computing Conference in Hangzhou. “A chip is small [like the honey badger], and we hope that such a small thing will produce great power.”

Though they are not by any means small, Chinese tech advancements are certainly a force to be reckoned with these days. The subsidiary with the kooky name is just one part of a much greater picture. The AI inference chips will be designed purposely for image recognition, the intent being that the chips will accelerate Chinese cloud and IoT businesses.

But founding the subsidiary is more than just a push toward automotive cars and smart infrastructure. It’s also a very conscious step away from Chinese dependence on American silicon. China is hard set in its goals to be the first global superpower to construct a true Smart City. Some would argue that they’re already halfway there. 

Now, China's next step is homegrown silicon, which for them will mean that U.S. trade tariffs can no longer hold their IoT-powered metropolises back.

Zhang sums the challenge up perfectly: “Alibaba’s semiconductor company is new; we’re just starting out. So, we hope to learn from the spirit [of the honey badger].”

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