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21 Dec 2017

Flipkart's AI push: E-tailer investing millions of dollars for AIforIndia

Flipkart creating internal Artificial Intelligence unit called "AIforIndia"

Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart is gearing up to bolster its push into the field of Artificial Intelligence by creating an internal unit "AIforIndia", as part of its efforts to put AI and machine learning at the core of its businesses.

Flipkart's Co-founder/Executive Chairman Sachin Bansal said they would spend "hundreds of millions of dollars" on the initiative; it's also scouting for acquisitions.

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In context

Flipkart creating internal Artificial Intelligence unit called "AIforIndia"

Sachin Bansal on creating AIforIndia

Bansal said: "Right now, the use of AI is moderate. There are some interesting projects in the marketplace, customer support, search, and personalization. You will see much more innovation coming out of Flipkart in the next year...this is going to be a big gamechanger."

Looking to hire talent from premier institutions

AI Push

Looking to hire talent from premier institutions

According to Bansal, Flipkart started recruiting AI experts for its initiative. It is building infrastructure, working with premier educational institutions like the IITs, striking hardware partnerships, etc. for making the AI push a success.

It is also looking for acquisitions in AI sector in India and the US. It had acquired Silicon Valley's F7 Labs in 2015 for focusing on AI and machine learning.

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AIforIndia to be headed by senior experts

AIforIndia would be led by Chief Data Scientist Mayur Datar while Sachin Bansal and Flipkart CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy would also work directly on key projects of the AI initiative. Flipkart would apply AI in a range of areas, both on the supply and consumer sides.

India-specific Problems

Underlying problems in India are different

Bansal said AIforIndia is the next big thing for Flipkart as it bets big on using AI and machine learning for solving problems.

He added, "India's problems are unique, and we need to apply AI in the ecosystem to solve Indian problems."

Focus areas of AI in developing countries don't apply for India. And, Flipkart would solve problems differently as India's problems are different.

Everything is different at Flipkart: Sachin Bansal

Flipkart

Everything is different at Flipkart: Sachin Bansal

Coming to Flipkart, Bansal said right from the way consumers interact with Flipkart to how deliveries happen, to how users get customer support, to the inventory management and supply planning, etc., everything is different at Flipkart.

Bansal added, "These are huge problems that we have at Flipkart- we believe we can apply AI and machine learning to all of these problems."

AI, Machine Learning

Going to hire more aggressively from outside: Bansal

Bansal said they have been working on machine learning for the last two years, but the growth has been slow as it wasn't a "focus area from the top".

He added that now they would bring more focus internally and start applying AI "much more aggressively in multiple areas within the company," not only at Flipkart but also at Myntra and PhonePe, too.

Deploying AI for various operations

With AIforIndia, Flipkart would use AI across various operations like voice search, visual similarity, fraud detection, delivery, personalization, warehousing, etc. Users may be able to place orders on Flipkart or Myntra via voice commands in regional languages or use an AI-based "visual similarity" option.

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