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23rd of July 2018

International



Alibaba’s new A.I. tool can produce thousands of ads a second, but it 'won’t replace humans'

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba launched an artificial intelligence (AI) tool that can write 20,000 lines of advertising copy per second.

Businesses advertising on Alibaba’s Tmall, Taobao, Mei.com and 1688.com e-commerce sites can insert a link on one of their product pages and click a “produce smart copy” button to see different advertising ideas.

But even though the tool has passed the Turing test, an assessment of a computer’s ability to behave like a human that was developed by scientist Alan Turing in 1950, Alibaba insists that the computer program won’t replace people. “All the content produced by the AI Copywriter is the result of applying deep learning models, trained with large volumes of quality content created by humans,” said Christina Lu, general manager of Alibaba’s marketing arm Alimama, in an online statement posted on the company’s news website Alizila on Tuesday.

“Human creativity is the cornerstone for the machine, which isn’t able to replace the creativity of people. AI for marketing … allows people to devote more energy to richly creative work,” she added.

Fashion label Esprit has already used the tool to adjust the length and tone of its advertising copy and brands can choose whether they want ads to be “promotional, functional, fun, poetic or heartwarming.” Alibaba claims that the tool is already being used a million times a day by small to mid-size companies that want to create multiple versions of ads to fit different sized spaces.

“For merchants, from today onwards, AI can take care of a portion of their copywriting needs. And it significantly changes the way (copywriters) work: They will shift from thinking up copy — one line at a time — to choosing the best out of many machine-generated options, largely improving efficiency,” Alimama said.

Advertising is set to become an important revenue stream for Alibaba, with predictions that it will take 40 percent of all Chinese mobile ad dollars next year, equivalent to more than $20 billion.

The company is potentially powerful for advertisers because of the data it has on the shopping habits of its almost 600 million monthly active mobile users. It is pushing its marketing services to companies globally, announcing a partnership with market research firm Kantar in June that will combine Alibaba’s data with Kantar’s knowledge of consumers’ habits.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma has said that he is concerned that businesses must adapt to a world that might be powered by AI and wants machines to be a “human partner” rather than an opponent.

- CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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