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How will deep learning impact the world of retail

The world is increasingly being run by algorithms, but could they ever become sentient? Could they ever become intelligent? We don’t really know. What we do know, though, is that machine learning and artificial intelligence will radically transform the world we live in. Deep learning is one of the most exciting branches within machine learning- a field where Google is placing huge bets. In January 2014, the search engine giant acquired the London-based startup DeepMind, a company focused on real-world applications of machine learning. Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and other tech companies are working around the clock to catch up with Google. Deep learning is at the heart of the recent developments in image recognition, speech recognition, object recognition and natural language processing. Does it stop there? No, it doesn’t.

While machine learning may have gained huge momentum over the past couple of years, the concept of deep learning is quite familiar within the computer science community; it goes back to the 1970s and 1980s. Artificial Neural Networks (ANN), the building blocks of biological neural networks, are increasingly being used to replicate the inner workings of the brain. Admittedly, trying to replicate the exact mechanisms of the human brain is a Sisyphean task. Unlike the mythical figure who had to roll a huge stone up a hill again and again, we can actually leverage the whole process. Deep learning is disrupting many industries, from the automotive industry to medical diagnostics, network security, trading, retail music industry and virtually any major human undertaking.

In addition to practical applications in image recognition, speech recognition, image recognition or translation, deep learning can be used to make sense of big data in new markets. For instance, artificial intelligence-powered trading platforms are slowly taking over the stock market. At the heart of the rapid advances in artificial intelligences, lies the arcane world of deep learning. Some notable figures like the world-renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking, or the tech luminary Elon Musk fear an eventual rise of the machines. Worry not, because unless we conquer our own minds, we simply cannot design and build an artificial general intelligence (AGI) system. What we can do, however, is to take advantage of the latest developments in deep learning.

Much like evolution itself, deep learning is a long and iterative process. The impact of deep learning in speech recognition applications such as Cortana or Siri, or in image recognition applications like Google DeepMind is huge. What about other fields such as the manufacturing industry or retail? Better still, how can deep learning impact the world of retail?

For one, deep learning techniques can and will disrupt the retail industry. As artificial neural networks become more and more efficient, as the graphics processing units(GPUs) get more and more powerful, so does their influence on retail. Computers will be taught not to just do more quickly, but think more quickly, learn more quickly, know more quickly. Imagine a world in which machine learning-based, automated systems know exactly what your wants and desires are. In such a scenario, retailers would cater to their customers more quickly and more efficiently.  Sophisticated image recognition algorithms would instantly find the product with the lowest price and the best quality, saving customers both time and money.

Imagine further a world in which deep learning techniques predict future preferences and needs. Retailers would no longer buy excessive items in order to make up for an eventual rise in the demand, because they would know beforehand the exact demand for certain products. Hence, warehouses could be used for other purposes. It would be a win-win situation, for both retailers and customers. Much like a shop assistant in a brick-and-mortar store, deep learning techniques would help the customer in finding the item that matches both the highest quality and the best price. Granted, deep learning would be even more effective if combined with big data, data mining and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Deep learning will be more about how we use computers to transcend human limits, to build artifacts and solutions to problems that exceed human understanding. Admittedly, it’s a huge challenge, but it can be done. No one said it would be easy, either. As the motto goes ’United we stand, divided we fall.’ The golden era of deep learning has just begun. Retail has nothing to lose, but everything to gain.