March 22, 2019

A.I.: Walmart Builds a Secret Weapon to Battle Amazon for Retail’s Future. “The world’s largest retailer is using Jetblack, a money-losing personal-shopping service, to develop artificial intelligence to compete with e-commerce giant Amazon.”

Walmart executives are betting the upstart becomes a powerful weapon in an escalating technological ground war with Amazon.com Inc., as the two companies battle over shoppers who are increasingly making all sorts of purchases online. Amazon reset the landscape with Prime, in which more than 100 million people globally get two-day delivery and other perks for $119 a year. Even though Walmart is bigger in sales overall, it is an underdog online, and it is fighting for a larger presence.

Walmart is using Jetblack’s army of human agents to train an artificial intelligence system that could someday power an automated personal-shopping service, preparing Walmart for a time when the search bar disappears and more shopping is done through voice-activated devices, said Jetblack CEO Jenny Fleiss.

“It’s the tech of the future, right? It’s not what everyone is doing today,” said Ms. Fleiss, who previously co-founded apparel rental company Rent The Runway. The CEO said it could be five to seven years before the system is mostly automated and less reliant on humans. “This is a long journey,” she said. “And I think we were aware of that going in.”

This one is behind the WSJ paywall, but you might find a way around it here.

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