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Flipkart unveils 'AIforIndia' programme to drive innovation

Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal: 'Data, talent and infrastructure are critical factors to be successful in AI'

Indian e-commerce giantFlipkart has unveiled its 'artificial intelligence (AI) For India' programme to give a push to its AI ambitions and keep up with rivals Amazon and Alibaba.

The new AI team will be headed by chief data scientist Mayur Datar, with Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal and Flipkart chief executive Kalyan Krishnamurthy directly working on some key projects.

In an interview, Bansal said that AI will become a significant driving force of innovation and change across varied sectors in the Indian economy and emphasised why India needs homegrown AI solutions.

He said: "Even before AI came into the picture, we’ve seen that you can’t just apply global solutions to Indian problems. You have to think of Indian problems from first principles and then come up with solutions, whether they are visible — like Cash-on-Delivery and payments — or in the background — like warehousing and logistics. For example, we have unique problems in the payments space for which UPI, which is a very Indian innovation, has worked wonders."

As to how Flipkart is positioned to tackle some of these problems, he said: "Flipkart also has a core tech and innovation DNA, coupled with the best product engineering team in India. We’re investing in cloud and technology infrastructure to build scalable computing capabilities in ecommerce, so we’re positioned very well to tackle problems head on. Ultimately, I believe data, talent and infrastructure are critical factors to be successful in AI — and Flipkart has all three in abundance."

Alibaba is already using AI to create tailor-made shopping experiences for consumers and targeted marketing for brands as it seeks to “empower people in the virtual economy”. Alibaba Cloud is set to open its first data centre in India to aid SMEs.

Meanwhile, Flipkart's rival Amazon too, has intensified its AI plans globally. It recently announced Amazon SageMaker, which lets companies build and quickly train machine learning algorithms and Amazon Rekognition Video, which uses AI to detect objects and faces in customers' video content.