Disney is getting smarter about artificial intelligence and machine learning, with the technologies at the forefront of what the Magic Kingdom is doing to enhance consumer experiences.
“These aren’t just buzzwords; they’re the future of our industry,” Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media senior vice president and chief technology officer Michael White said during a Tuesday keynote at the National Retail Federation’s Shop.org conference. “These tools have the power to change nearly every aspect of retail.”
They appear to have already made their mark in a dramatic way on the Disney organization, with the company viewing AI and machine learning as key tools. White pointed to sub-technologies under those two technology branches, including natural language processing (the ability to understand human language), text to speech or speech synthesis and image recognition as those with the most promise and potential for the industry.
“What we’re really talking about is training a computer in a way that enhances its ability to help us achieve our goals and give consumers a better experience,” he said.
The same day White spoke at the NRF conference, which runs through Wednesday at the Los Angeles Convention Center, the company revealed a new store format pilot aimed at providing more immersive experiences. The reveal also came with the announcement of a ShopDisney site that adds hundreds of stockkeeping units by expanding the assortment to include licensed and theme park merchandise.
Image recognition is helping automate visual merchandising and also is creating more personalized guest experiences by providing relevant product suggestions, White pointed out.
“Yes, this automation helps us be more effective and accurate, but it also helps us improve the guest experience,” he said.
The company is now looking beyond product and into its own portfolio of intellectual property, training computers to recognize its characters — an ability different from recognizing a T-shirt or human face, the executive said.
Application of the technology is going to be endless, White said, prompting the company to equip its teams with the right skill sets to also move forward with the organization.
To that end, the company has broken down its efforts into three core focus areas, consisting of training, diversity and culture.
The company is providing engineers with training that ranges from basic to advanced, talks from tech leaders, mentorship and has also sent some team members to learn from machine learning experts at Google. There are also more programs aimed at boosting the number of women and other minorities involved in tech or to provide assistance with mid-career transitions within the organization.
“The key word here is targeted,” White said. “We’re not chasing every technology out there.”
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