Yasufumi Hirai, CIO & CISO, Rakuten, Inc.
Photo: Rakuten Institute of Technology engineers demonstrate a system for capturing human motion without the need for special body suits.

The emergence of the Intelligent Society will change our lives in many ways. Often experts point to icons of the sharing economy, such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb, to demonstrate how new waves of technology are already reconfiguring the way we do business and use services. But I want to point out another aspect of the Intelligent Society that is also at work, right now, in ways consumers may not immediately perceive. That is the impact of AI.

Today, Rakuten is deploying AI in a variety of businesses to better serve our customers – often behind the scenes. These are some examples:

  • In developing our first delivery drones, we used AI to construct “computer vision” to help the drone make safe landings.
  • We used AI/deep learning technology to create object recognition for users of PriceMinister and Rakuma. This helps users to sort and search for desired products, as well as making it easier for sellers to tag their products.
  • We also used AI to organize the data from product merchants. This improves recommendations, search results and advertising efficiency.
  • We used AI to build a platform that predicts product demand to help with price and inventory optimization.
  • AI powers our coupon personalization process, connecting user data with item data to create targeted offers.
  • Users of Viber’s Public Accounts can now deploy chatbots using AI for interacting with their customers.

This may look like a technology strategy, but in fact, the reasons for our pursuit of AI are very human. In addition to providing better customer service, when we can deploy AI to handle routine tasks, we free our human employees to do what technology cannot. When we allow the technology to take on certain tasks, we allow our people to focus strategy and creativity. We are all looking for ways to be more innovative. Often, we think we don’t have time for creative thinking. AI is the solution to that roadblock. AI is the process by which companies can create time for creative and strategic thinking. It is part of the change taking place in our economy that will allow us to be more innovative.

AI is a vision for the future but also a tool for the present. We are always looking for new ways to see what it can do next.