The Rakuten Technology Conference is back! Connectivity, AI, green and more…
On a mild Saturday morning in November, Rakuten opened up its Tokyo headquarters for the 14th iteration of the Rakuten Technology Conference, inviting enthusiasts, partners and families into the office to take part in broad-ranging tech discourse on the theme of Tech & Green.
The event ran three simultaneous tracks for a total of 21 different sessions over the course of the day, also streamed live to Rakuten offices in multiple countries. Panels on intriguing topics such as writing green software and IoT farms drew crowds, as did prominent guest speakers including Red Hat CTO Chris Wright, Slack CPO Tamar Yehoshua, and Google Cloud Chief Decision Scientist Cassie Kozyrkov.
Tech and transformation for a changing world
The event’s keynote was delivered by Rakuten Group Chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani, who emphasized the importance of staying on the cutting edge.
“The world has changed very rapidly over the last three years,” he told the crowd, touching on everything from the pandemic and global conflicts to technology and politics. “The transformation is happening not only for business, but also for society.”
Mikitani stressed that this transformation is something bigger than e-commerce, social media or Web 3.0: “We say internet of everything because everything will be connected,” he argued. “Countries, societies, communities, companies who are left behind will become dinosaurs. So we have to think aggressively, we have to think openly and we have to really think about what is going to happen.”
“Technology is to enrich society, make our society and community a better place. Hopefully it will contribute to peace in the world. That’s why we are not just working to help the business – we are working together to make the world a better place.”MICKEY MIKITANI, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, RAKUTEN GROUP
While a proactive approach won’t guarantee success, Mikitani believes that the alternative could be fatal.
“Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong, but the biggest risk is not to act, not to try new things. If you try, you fail sometimes. But you learn and you move on. Just sitting there is very dangerous. We have to change, we have to challenge, we need to become creative.”
This philosophy is one that has driven Rakuten’s 25-year journey to become one of the biggest ecosystems in the world — spanning the realms of e-commerce and fintech. “Why? Because we keep innovating, we keep adding new functions, new businesses, new services, continuously.”
Mikitani left the crowd of tech enthusiasts with a key message.
“Technology is not just for making money: Technology is to enrich society, and make our society and community a better place. Hopefully, it will contribute to peace in the world. That’s why we are not just working to help the business – we are working together to make the world a better place.”
Rakuten Mobile leading the charge into the future of telecom
Having launched shortly after the pre-pandemic Technology Conference three years prior, Rakuten Mobile and its impact on the communications industry were major topics of discussion.
“Mobile is becoming a driving force for our ecosystem,” Mikitani revealed. “Your phone is not just about communicating. It’s your wallet. It’s your sensor. It’s your AI. It’s your self-publishing platform. And now it’s becoming part of your body. It is very difficult to live without your smartphone.”
Rakuten Mobile CTO Sharad Sriwastawa also took to the stage to give a detailed rundown of the carrier’s journey so far.
“Connectivity is a crucial enabler for a smart society. A smart, connected ecosystem will drive sustainability — be it through smart homes, smart cities, or smart lifestyles…And as Rakuten Mobile and Symphony, we will focus on providing cheaper and better connectivity.”Sharad Sriwastawa, Rakuten Mobile CTO
Sriwastawa’s team has embraced new technology, from leveraging Rakuten’s high-quality data to efficiently build out the network where there is the most demand, using drones to improve cell tower inspections, and preparing to trial a low Earth orbit satellite network intended to bring geographical coverage to 100%.
But above all, Sriwastawa stressed that it’s the very fundamentals of the Rakuten Mobile network — its software-based foundation and platform solutions — that will truly lead the global telecom industry into the future.
“Rakuten Mobile and Symphony will continue to innovate and focus on technology,” he said. “Connectivity is a crucial enabler for a smart society. A smart, connected ecosystem will drive sustainability — be it through smart homes, smart cities, or smart lifestyles. Connectivity is the key. And as Rakuten Mobile and Symphony, we will focus on providing cheaper and better connectivity.”
Our AI future explained
Another highly anticipated session entitled AI: The Future of Software hosted prominent data scientist Cassie Kozyrkov, who serves as Chief Decision Scientist at Google Cloud. Kozyrkov was joined onstage by Rakuten’s own Chief Data Officer Ting Cai and Global Head of Rakuten Institute of Technology Ewa Szymanska.
“Humanity’s history is a story of toolmaking, and AI is a tool like any other…It’s not a replacement for people. What it is, is a very specific tool — a very powerful tool, that, like the computer, will create a lot of opportunities.”Cassie Kozyrkov, Chief Decision Scientist, Google Cloud
“Humanity’s history is a story of toolmaking, and AI is a tool like any other,” Kozyrkov told the panel. “It’s not a replacement for people. What it is, is a very specific tool — a very powerful tool, that, like the computer, will create a lot of opportunities.”
Where humans have always been able to learn through both instruction and by example, computers have traditionally only been able to learn through instruction, such as a human programmer writing specific commands for a computer to follow. Technologies like machine learning, however, bring example-based teaching to the digital realm — a powerful idea in the world of programming.
“It’s important to know exactly what AI is a tool for: It is a tool for writing software,” she continued. “It’s actually another approach for telling computers what we want them to do for us.”
Kozyrkov drew attention to Rakuten’s rare combination of research and application within a single organization.
“Often you have either good research in isolation, or you have application-based research that’s not done in-house,” she said. “Both of these are very important things. They rarely exist together with the kind of excellence that your institute represents.”
Rakuten Technology Awards honor great strides in tech: quantum computing, AI and IoT
The day wrapped up with a ceremony honoring the three winners of the 2022 Rakuten Technology Awards.
Dr. Masanao Yamaoka of Hitachi was highlighted for his work on practical applications for quantum computing, exploring a potential path for the futuristic technology to be applied to real-world optimization problems.
AI startup Robust Intelligence also received an award for its work with AI stress testing — detecting potential biases and vulnerabilities in AI models before deployment.
The final award was granted to environmental startup UMITRON, whose technology utilizes AI and IoT to boost the efficiency and efficacy of aquaculture systems, helping cut industry emissions while also solving food challenges.
With that (and the traditional afterparty), the curtain closed on the 2022 Rakuten Technology Conference. Stay tuned for more tech topics and events in the future!