Rakuten is making significant contributions to the rapidly evolving world of AI, enhancing customer experiences, and creating societal impacts. Key to this ambitious vision is Ewa Szymanska, Global Head of Rakuten Institute of Technology (RIT), and Executive Officer at Rakuten Group. With her extensive experience and strong leadership, she exemplifies Rakuten’s commitment to cutting-edge AI advancements.
Diversity as a playground for AI innovation
Szymanska’s career spans e-commerce, telecommunications, and data analytics, making her an ideal fit for Rakuten. With a PhD in Psychology of Decision Making from the University of Pennsylvania and extensive practical tech experience, she has long operated at the intersection of technology and business.
Under Szymanska, Rakuten carries out research and development in diverse fields such as computer vision, natural language processing and advanced customer analytics. “Our extensive data breadth and depth enable our scientists to explore various domains, create previously unattainable functionalities and push the boundaries of innovation, making their work engaging and exciting,” she explains.
One of the company’s assets is its vast and varied data, which comes from more than 70 services. Szymanska perceives this diversity as a playground for AI innovation, allowing her and her team to delve into different sectors and work on varied projects from e-commerce to FinTech to travel recommendations.
How RIT leadership bridges academia and innovation
Under Szymanska’s leadership, “RIT serves as a bridge between academia and Rakuten.” The institute is a dedicated research hub committed to the practical application of academic research, living up to the vision that AI isn’t merely a theoretical concept, but a tool that significantly impacts Rakuten’s offerings and drives societal progress.
The Institute is strengthened by its close relationships with academia, a strategic alignment that Szymanska underscores. “The majority of our researchers have an academic background, and we maintain strong connections, collaborations and advisory relationships with other universities,” she notes. This link, fortified by welcoming interns from, and maintaining strong connections with academic institutions, fuels Rakuten’s knowledge pool, ensuring the company remains current on the latest advancements in science and tech.
The goal, as Szymanska succinctly puts it, is “not only to keep Rakuten aware of these advancements but also to leverage them effectively.” This approach, firmly rooted in innovation and impact, is the backbone of Rakuten’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of AI research and application.
“The blend of leadership, resources, and the open-mindedness of Rakuten makes it a fertile ground for ideas and passion.”Ewa Szymanska, Global Head, Rakuten Institute of Technology
Of course, it’s not just about the here and now. RIT also delves into futuristic concepts, exploring potential real-world applications of quantum computing and other emerging technologies. Their approach, however, remains grounded in a firm commitment to ethical practices, ensuring Rakuten’s technology advancements serve the greater good.
Impacting real lives through Rakuten AI
RIT’s work extends into many sectors, with healthcare being one example. Particularly with Rakuten Medical in the fight against cancer, the organization’s efforts are pioneering. “In the medical field, achieving personalized treatment is considered the ultimate goal, especially when it comes to diseases like cancer, which is a primary focus for Rakuten Medical,” Szymanska explains. “With the help of AI, we are making significant strides towards realizing the dream of personalized cancer treatment.”
While Rakuten’s commitment to AI technology spans various domains, its impact on Rakuten’s consumer-facing services is particularly notable. Szymanska shares that “interactions between consumers and products born out of RIT’s innovation can, for example, be experienced on the video streaming platform Rakuten Viki.” To overcome the challenge of maintaining pace with translations given the volume of content, RIT developed a proprietary translation platform and language learning tools for the service to make foreign content more accessible.
Szymanska points out the immediate, tangible results of this approach: “A spike in watch time as soon as subtitles in new languages were added to a show, demonstrating the expanded reach of the content.” She further highlights the innovative blend of human expertise and AI efficiency used to support Rakuten Viki’s volunteer translators, which “expedited the translation process, demonstrating a successful example of AI-human collaboration.”
Join the AI revolution: Rakuten’s fertile ground for ideas and passion
For AI experts, Rakuten Group offer unmatched opportunity. Szymanska emphasizes that “Rakuten’s entrepreneurial spirit” combined with a culture of collaboration sits at the heart of its working ethos, fostering an environment where “experts from diverse backgrounds work together to solve complex problems.” This nurtures a space that not only “values innovative thinking” but also passionately supports the personal growth of its team members.
Beyond mere academic interest, the company’s focus on societal impact and innovation permeates every aspect of its operations. Szymanska provides numerous instances of this culture of internal innovation, from hosting hackathons that encourage creative thinking, to facilitating employee-led initiatives that can evolve into full-fledged businesses.
As Szymanska puts it, “the blend of leadership, resources and the open-mindedness of Rakuten makes it a fertile ground for ideas and passion.” For those excited by the limitless potential of AI, Rakuten extends an invitation to join the journey, contribute to the narrative, and become a part of a vibrant global community that’s revolutionizing the way we live, work, and interact with technology. After all, as Szymanska says, “at Rakuten, with a good idea and the passion to see it through, anything is possible.”