Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba said it expects to invest more than $15 billion in research and development (R&D) over the next three years, with the intention of working in areas including data intelligence, IoT and human-machine interaction.

The pledge was made as the company launched Alibaba DAMO Academy, a global research programme designed to “increase technological collaboration worldwide, advance the development of cutting-edge technology and strive to make the world more inclusive by narrowing the technology gap”.

DAMO stands for “discovery, adventure, momentum and outlook”. It will fall under the remit of Jeff Zhang, group CTO at Alibaba.

“We aim to discover breakthrough technologies that will enable greater efficiency, network, security and ecosystem synergy for end-users and businesses everywhere,” the executive said.

Alibaba is set to open seven R&D labs across China, US, Russia, Israel and Singapore. These will work with “luminaries in the technology space and top educational institutions”.

Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba (pictured), said while the idea of setting up such a programme was brought up some time ago, “without strong and abundant financial resources, it’s hard to establish a research institute”.

With 18 years of operation under its belt, Alibaba is now in a strong position in the internet sector, and “trust and confidence from around 500 million customers and users”.

“In the past, China always followed the steps of the US or Russia. Why can’t China work its own path? We have the resources. With our technology and capital and responsibility, we can build a world-cass research institute,” Ma said.

Alibaba is being positioned to be “a company that lasts at least 102 years” – enabling it to span three centuries.