Rakuten is quickly carving out a name for itself as an AI innovator, demonstrating its commitment to using this emerging technology to enhance its services and the customer experience. The company – which is collaborating with OpenAI to develop state-of-the-art AI experiences in Japan – has committed significant resources to developing AI technologies.
Rakuten’s AI leader: Ting Cai’s journey
Rakuten Group’s Chief Data Officer and Group Senior Managing Executive Officer Ting Cai is at the forefront of Rakuten’s AI initiatives, overseeing the Technology Services Division which creates global solutions leveraging AI and data. With a passion for creating products and technologies that users love, Cai has built and grown successful products across search, commerce and network communications.
Although he graduated from Dartmouth College with a master’s degree in computer science, AI wasn’t a field on his radar. In fact, his transition to working on AI was almost accidental.
Cai was working on a previous employer’s commerce platform when the company sent him to Europe to run a startup they had acquired. The startup was using over a million rules to classify products, but he knew there was a better way; he directed the team to use machine learning algorithms to automatically classify the products. This experience led him to venture into the field of AI.
Rakuten’s unique market position and culture drew him in. “Rakuten is a unique company,” Cai says. “Its mission to contribute to society, its culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, and its thrilling breadth of services combine to put Rakuten in a unique position to leverage data and AI to create value for consumers and businesses alike. I think that’s what drew me to Rakuten.”
Rakuten’s philosophy on AI: Augmenting human creativity
Cai’s vision for AI at Rakuten is one of collaboration, not replacement.
“AI should be there to augment human creativity and intelligence, not replace it,” he emphasizes, underscoring the need to make sure that the applications of AI are ethical and unbiased. His philosophy on AI applications matches Rakuten’s mission of empowerment through technology.
With its vast network of small businesses, Rakuten is the perfect place to make that vision of empowering and augmenting humanity with AI a reality. Cai believes that AI can play a crucial role in helping businesses grow and compete effectively with larger companies. “Small and local businesses are the heart of the community. Rakuten’s commitment to supporting them through AI technologies is essential for their success and growth.”
AI-powered customer experience at Rakuten
Cai is also focused on leveraging AI to enhance the customer experience across all of Rakuten’s businesses, from e-commerce to fintech. By analyzing customer data and using machine learning algorithms, Rakuten can provide personalized and targeted recommendations to its customers. This not only improves customer satisfaction, but also drives business growth.
“We have an amazing engineering organization with very strong research capabilities, and we are always looking to innovate and push the boundaries of what’s possible.”Ting Cai, Chief Data Officer and Group Senior Managing Executive Officer, Rakuten Group
Rakuten has already demonstrated success in using AI in the fintech industry. In July 2023, Rakuten Life Insurance introduced ChatGPT to its dedicated terminals to assist insurance agents in their daily work, while Rakuten Securities has launched an Investment AI Assistant (in beta) which uses ChatGPT to help customers learn about the basics of investment.
As Cai shares, “By understanding our customers’ behavior and preferences, we can provide them with customized solutions that meet their unique needs.” He also referenced online grocery delivery service Rakuten Seiyu Netsuper and Rakuten’s successful partnership with Japan Post, which leverage a range of Rakuten’s digital technologies and AI to support logistics, and demand forecasting, among other areas.
Innovating in services, engineering and research
Cai’s team at Rakuten is organized into three parts: services, engineering and research. Services maintains a strong understanding of internal and external business requirements. Engineering focuses on building scalable, reusable tech products for Rakuten. Lastly, research anticipates future trends, exploring areas like quantum computing and medical research.
Cai believes that at Rakuten he is part of a world-class engineering organization with a strong focus on AI. As he puts it, “we have an amazing engineering organization with very strong research capabilities, and we are always looking to innovate and push the boundaries of what’s possible.”
This dedication to innovation and exploration in AI is what makes Rakuten an attractive destination for world-class engineers and AI enthusiasts. “I feel like Rakuten is a fantastic playground where engineers have a lot of freedom and autonomy to create and to learn.”
One of the key ways that Rakuten fosters innovation in AI is through the Rakuten Institute of Technology (RIT). RIT is a global research and development organization dedicated to creating cutting-edge technology solutions that solve real-world problems. With locations in Tokyo, Singapore, Boston, San Mateo, Bengaluru and Paris, RIT is shaping the AI of tomorrow by working on a wide range of projects, from natural language processing to computer vision.
“Rakuten has a diverse portfolio of businesses, from e-commerce to fintech to travel, and all of these businesses can benefit from AI technologies,” Cai emphasizes. “I can’t think of many companies in the world that have the breadth of Rakuten’s products and services.”
An environment for AI professionals to thrive
The leadership and vision of Rakuten’s Chief Data Officer are positioning the tech company as a leader in the development and application of AI technologies. His passion for creating products and technologies that users love is evident in Rakuten’s commitment to impactful AI technologies.
From Cai’s perspective, Rakuten is the perfect environment for AI specialists to thrive and make a difference. “Who doesn’t want to learn state-of-the-art technologies, not only to create something new, but also for their own career?”
With his leadership and vision, coupled with Rakuten’s commitment to transformative AI applications, the future of AI at Rakuten looks bright.
Ting Cai’s sessions at Rakuten Optimism 2023 can be viewed here.