JD is very serious about AI and other emerging technologies. The online retailer wants to lead China’s innovations not only in terms of business models but also in technologies.

“Technology underscores many facets of our business. It is a big focus for us, in addition to user experience, logistics, and fintech, among other areas,” Zhang Chen, JD’s CTO, told TechNode.

Over the past few years, we have seen the e-commerce giant weighing its research and development capabilities. Believing in AI as a key component to better user experience, the company has established a joint laboratory with the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (in Chinese) and has set up an AI center in Guandong Province. A Silicon Valley-based robotics research lab was established in anticipation to bring their expertise back to China. In addition to in-house development, partnerships and acquisitions were also made toward the same goal.

While pushing research and development advancements, JD has fast-tracked applications to test their latest research result in real-life scenarios. Zhang believes the company’s ability to realize quick adoption of these technologies plays an equally important role in realizing the company’s vision.

“Having a specific use case is important. If technology can find a use case, then it has an impact,” said Zhang.

In response to the very latest rumor about JD’s plan to slash half of its staff through automation, the company’s billionaire founder and CEO reiterated the company’s support for AI at World Intelligence Congress held on May 16th. AI will not lead to large-scale unemployment, but only to emancipate human being from labor chores“, said Richard Liu.

JD already applied several cutting-edge technologies to change the e-commerce industry. Enabled by AI technology, JD makes personalized recommendations on the JD app based on machine learning, which is capable of learning when and where customers buy products. AI also helps the firm to make predictions in smart supply chain and smart logistics.

“We are building something to address our own needs. Over two years ago, we started doing drones – we fully own this scenario. Just as Google is working on unmanned cars, we have our own scenarios for unmanned vehicles and delivery robots to solve the last mile delivery challenge. We continue to build the product for our own needs (just as we did with drones in e-commerce). Because we can continue to test this technology in the context of our own business development, we see the improvement in efficiency.” Zhang said. “Right now, these vehicles support JD’s own business, but in the future we can open our resources up so that others can tap into this technology, helping them deliver from A to B. When this technology goes to scale it becomes ‘last mile logistics infrastructure’.”

In addition to AI, JD is adopting blockchain technology to strengthen the product authentication process. “Blockchain technology has a range of potential use cases in the context of product quality. Our blockchain tracing project focuses on products where people really care about authenticity and safety, such as milk products, beef, and top brand alcohol,” Zhang added.

JD launched a new Beijing-based accelerator program for blockchain startups in February this year and set up a blockchain-enabled logistics alliance (in Chinese) last week.

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Emma Lee

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via lixin@sixthtone.com or Twitter.

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