Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a real and growing part of our lives, and the time is now ripe for a great change and disruption— the “Perfect Storm” as Outreach Director of Microsoft Research Asia, Tim Pan puts it.
With the coming together of big data, cloud computing and advanced algorithms, AI will now be sweeping each and every industry, becoming the next big thing to shake the world since the internet happened.
Microsoft Research Asia, Microsoft’s fundamental research arm in the Asia Pacific region, was founded in 1998 in Beijing. A world-class research lab that develops groundbreaking technologies and works at the cutting edge, AI is also one of the primary focuses of research. The range and depths of Microsoft’s research in the realms of AI has led to recent major advances, winning the ImageNet computer vision challenge and the SQuAD competition for semantic search.
Data is the new currency, what are we waiting for?
AI is not some distant future, or something that only concerns the IT department. As a matter of fact, the amount of data needed to architect AI models is huge, and in order to determine parameters for prototypes, the whole process needs to be backed by large data sets. So before we even start to think about building a new AI solution, it is the data collection that Mr. Pan states Taiwan businesses should acknowledge and devote their resources to.
Mr. Pan believes that e-commerce should definitely go hand in hand with the field of “Big Data” in the advancing of artificial intelligence, using data science to conduct pattern mining, and going on to building a more tailored and useful solution, such as chatbot technology.
But Mr. Pan also stresses the importance of e-commerce businesses clearly “knowing what they want,” as AI is more akin to a tool, and it is up to the businesses to discover new and creative ways to apply AI. Whether it is data collection or the ways that AI technology is envisaged and attempted, now is the time for all industries to get on board. Waiting until the technology, marketing, integration, commercialization, and user experience of AI is mature enough will only see you being late to the game.
Microsoft’s New Vision for Store of the Future
In real world cases, Microsoft has worked with visual recognition company Prism Skylab, using an AI system, retailers can conduct an advanced video search, with keywords such as “wallet” bringing up relevant segments of the video. This function not only works well for finding lost property, unmanned stores, but also for police systems.
Microsoft has also launched unmanned stores with JianFu Supermarket, a remarkable combination of smart retail and how AI technology can be envisioned for the future.
Supported by Microsoft’s technology platforms, including cloud computing, IoT, big data, and AI, JianFu Supermarket in Xiamen, Fujian has been able to provide a varied and customized level of products and services, by deeply mining user behaviors, forecasting trends, and leading production based on them.
There are 3 parts to the operating system, consisting of in-store cameras and sensors, connected to AI modules that have been fully trained and equipped by Microsoft. The first step being “Identifying Customers,” secondly “Connecting purchase history with this identity,” and the third part being “payment systems” (consisting of mobile or gesture payments). Through this, recommendations or related information and promotions based on the customer’s purchase history can be enabled, resulting in a precise increase of sales.
However, Taiwan businesses do not necessarily need to follow this same path as their China counterparts, as country size, density of retailers and also popularity of payment systems differ vastly. Taiwan businesses should focus on “improving the efficiency of services” as their main goal, and the possibilities of integrating humans and machines.
Imagination leads to Possibilities of AI Innovation
Mr. Pan emphasized more than once, that “AI is a tool,” and the imagination greatly decides how the tool will be used. With the minimizing costs of trial and error nowadays, AI modules are available just by connecting to Microsoft’s Azure cloud server. However, e-commerce and retailers need to establish an imaginative vision for their business before innovation is possible with the introduction of AI.
Start from understanding the challenges of the business, to be able to bring in AI and devising Human-Robot workflows that can be applied.
Lastly, Outreach Director of Microsoft Research Asia, Mr. Tim Pan will be sharing Microsoft’s cutting edge observations of how artificial intelligence in retail is being applied in new ways across the entire industry, and how Microsoft can play an important part in assisting Taiwan e-commerce businesses and retailers in working with the latest state of the art technology.
With a doctoral degree in Electrical Engineering from Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. Tim Pan has over 20 years of tech industry experience, co-founding two tech companies, and has great passion for nurturing talent. He is currently outreach director of Microsoft Research Asia, being responsible for the lab’s academic collaboration in the Asia-Pacific region.
Tim Pan leads a multi-cultural team of researchers and developers from China, Japan and Korea, and also visiting scientists and students. He establishes strategies and directions, identifies business opportunities, and designs various programs and projects that strengthen partnership between Microsoft Research and academia.
He will be talking about the cutting edge of AI technology and how industries should approach AI, further discussing changes and shifts in the E-commerce and retail business, and what part Microsoft plays in creating a future vision.
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