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Nick Knight on why AI cannot simulate creativity

Artificial intelligence is not yet good enough to simulate creativity, says British fashion photographer Nick Knight on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.

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Speaking live at a FashMash event in London, he explained that AI as it stands today, is a long way from what creativity is: “When you create a picture, it is done through desire, accident, failure, fear, love, and arousal. Predicting what I will do by how I did past steps is not a good way to create my next piece of art; it’s not a good way to simulate creativity.”

He was referring to the way in which AI looks back at past behavior in order to work out what is probable next. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t one day figure out how to do so, he noted, adding that he is working on new projects that will keep him on the frontline of it so as to have a say in what it could look like down the road.

Knight has built his career on pushing the boundaries of image making. He has photographed some of the world’s biggest celebrities and models – from Lady Gaga and Bjork to Kate Moss and the late Alexander McQueen. Almost two decades ago, he launched SHOWstudio, an online platform celebrating fashion film, and changing the way fashion was consumed through the internet.

Now his next act is understanding how technologies like AI and robotics will impact creativity, and how he can become a part of such a movement.

During this conversation with guest host Rosanna Falconer, Knight explains what the smartphone has to do with Shakespeare; how SHOWstudio broke the internet but created history with the first ever live streamed fashion show for Alexander McQueen in late 2009; and why he is an eternal optimist about the future.

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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e-commerce Editor's pick Podcast

NET-A-PORTER on personalizing the customer experience

Rosanna Falconer and Matthew Woolsey

The future of e-commerce may not be about a traditional website at all, but about existing on multiple other platforms, expresses Matthew Woolsey, managing director at online luxury retailer, NET-A-PORTER, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent.

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The company sees many of its big customers making purchases over platforms including Whatsapp, iMessage and WeChat, which have become their primary entry point to e-commerce through their relationships with personal shoppers, he explains.

“We want to be in the platform where our customer is engaging with content, seeing the product or speaking with the personal shopper. It’s about what’s best for her. We never want to be in a position where we are forcing or imposing a platform or methodology on our customers, because that’s the opposite of customer centricity,” he explains.

“It’s very easy to imagine a time when NET-A-PORTER doesn’t even have a website, in the traditional sort of desktop sense, and really what it exists as is more of a concierge, on-demand, service offering. I think that’s the future of where this industry is headed and it’s something we are really well suited for because we have that infrastructure, we have that service component but we also know a lot more about our customer than just what she is buying.”

Data is central to being able to personalize the experience for individual customers in this way, he explains, outlining how the company is constantly looking at how to give its personal shoppers greater tools through technology.

The company is currently experimenting with how it can use artificial intelligence to merge data between purchase history and fashion trends to give personal shoppers recommendations and ideas in advance that are personalized to the customer, for instance.

Eventually the idea is for this to be scalable across the seven million consumers NET-A-PORTER talks to, but hitting its EIPs, or extremely important people, is the core focus, given the fact this 3% of its customer base, make up 40% of its revenue.

Speaking with Rosanna Falconer at a FashMash event in London, Woolsey also reveals why the most expensive item ever bought via a messaging app is so significant, whether NET-A-PORTER would ever think about physical retail, and how to manage the modern day tension between algorithms and inspiration.  

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick Podcast technology

Amazon Alexa’s founder on how voice tech will impact retail

William Tunstall-Pedoe

“The vision is that everything will respond when you talk to it; you’ll be surprised when it doesn’t reply,” said William Tunstall-Pedoe, the creator of Amazon Alexa, at a recent event hosted by FashMash in London.

The UK-based inventor and entrepreneur, whose startup Evi was acquired by Amazon in 2012, was talking about the expectation he has for voice technology, or what’s being increasingly referred to as the “zero interface”, down the line.

Right now, the technology is incredibly nascent, but its application in the future is only going to increase, he argued: “AI and voice tech have the potential to overtake humans, but I couldn’t predict when. An effective virtual sales assistant, for example, would be transformative, but the detail is lacking right now.”

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Tunstall-Pedoe, who recorded a podcast for TheCurrent Innovators that has just been re-released from earlier this year, particularly sees this as the case when talking about retail. Today, he suggests voice technology is only applicable to shopping at a very basic level – for groceries, for instance, or for replenishment of households goods like detergent or toilet roll.

In fact, only about 100,000 people have reportedly bought something via voice interface more than once thus far, according to a report from The Information. But, voice commerce sales did reach $1.8 billion in 2017, and they’re predicted to hit $40 billion by 2022, a study from OC&C Strategy Consultants shows.

A more intelligent system is needed to make that a reality, Tunstall-Pedoe suggests. “What we really want is a kind of superhuman sales assistant that you can have a conversation with – an AI that would be showing you product, answering questions and taking into account your circumstances to sell you something. It has the potential of basically what a really good sales person would do.”

“It shouldn’t be that surprising that people are not doing that much shopping of new products just with voice assistants right now, they want to see it and touch it. We are very very early right now; we are only nibbling at the edges of buying things… Once you can create a sales assistant at scale, then that would be transformative. But for very personalized experiences, that is not possible just yet.”

What he does suggest for today, is that retailers and brands remain focused on making the best products possible, and learning to describe and categorize them as tightly as they can. With consumers demanding more personal and relevant interactions, it’s only going to become more necessary to feed the machines (as such) with the right information in the first place, he comments.

After all, the superhuman assistants of the future may well be about surfacing the best product for their humans in question, but that’s only the case if they know about them in the first place.

Having departed Amazon in 2016, and since been working with a multitude of startups around the globe, many of them focused on all different areas under the artificial intelligence header, Tunstall-Pedoe is bullish on this direction of travel. “There is a lot of technology in the future, that hasn’t been invented yet, that is going to make this better. It’s a very exciting time and it’s only just beginning.”

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 

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data e-commerce Editor's pick Podcast Retail

Farfetch on the store of the future

Rosanna Falconer and Sandrine Deveaux
Rosanna Falconer and Sandrine Deveaux

The store of the future is about solving the problems of today in an innovative and meaningful way for the customer, says Sandrine Deveaux of Farfetch, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

Speaking to guest host, Rosanna Falconer, at a live FashMash Pioneers event in London, the managing director of the e-commerce company’s store of the future division, explains that her focus in not just on new technology for the sake of it, but on creating better shopping experiences driven by personalization.

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Following the announcement of Farfetch’s Store of the Future concept in April 2017, Deveaux has been building a series of beta tests in place in Browns East in London, Thom Browne in New York and Chanel in Paris. But the result doesn’t mean big flashy screens or variations on augmented reality, as she is so often asked about.

Instead, it’s about better servicing the customer; understanding what they want when they walk into stores thanks to data, but also making things like the payment experience a much more seamless one.

She says the store of the future is really about offering the experience of Apple, but the convenience of Amazon, so as to keep in line with increasing consumer expectations.

And so the end goal,for her team, she says, is to provide brands and boutiques with full visibility around customer behavior and customer intent, mirroring what’s possible online in the offline space.

“85% of customers, we don’t know anything about them. So that’s what the store of the future is really getting to – it’s about how we leverage the platform we have with Farfetch, and try to really look at online behavior and take that online behavior into an in-store context,” she explains. This is something Farfetch calls “enabling the offline cookie”.

On this episode, Deveaux also talks to driving disruptive innovation through healthy internal tension, how she’s changing the way luxury brands think, and why the ultimate sales associate for the store of the future might just be a unicorn.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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data Editor's pick Podcast

Facebook’s data scandal: Amnesty International on the future of regulation

Amnesty International's Sherif Elsayed-Ali - Facebook
Amnesty International’s Sherif Elsayed-Ali

According to Amnesty International’s Sherif Elsayed-Ali, brand transparency and regulation are key in light of the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica news, which saw over 87 million individual user accounts improperly shared.

Speaking on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators, which was guest hosted by Rosanna Falconer at a live FashMash Pioneers event in London, Elsayed-Ali, the human rights organization’s director of global issues and research, said data protection and privacy have never been more pertinent topics.

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“In the atmosphere we are in, where this is this kind of diminishing trust in technology, creating transparency adds to the trust that people will have in any company or brand in a way that can be very positive… There’s something about empowering people, empowering consumers, to be able to say ‘I know what’s happening to my data, I know how it’s used, and I know how it’s protected’,” he explains.

For that to happen, there needs to be regulations in place for brands however, he added. By building a basic framework of minimum requirements, it will level the playing field, which is essential.

The advent of GDPR in Europe – the General Data Protection Regulation proposed by the European Commission and due to kickstart in May 2018 – will help facilitate this, he notes, explaining exactly what it means for marketers within the fashion and retail industries still looking to drive microtargeting and increasingly personalized campaigns.

Consent is a crucial focus he said, but so is removing lengthy jargon that makes it difficult for users to understand what they’re signing up for.

During the episode, Elsayed-Ali, who established Amnesty’s technology and human rights program, also talks to what artificial intelligence means for the future of the fashion industry – exploring the role of automation in manufacturing for instance, and just when we can expect this to become a reality. “We’re not talking decades, we’re talking just years,” he notes.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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data Editor's pick Podcast technology

How Google Zoo is thinking about machine learning

Tomas Roope and Rachel Arthur

There’s a very simple filter that comes with working at Google, and it’s about putting the user first, says Tomas Roope, creative lead at Google Zoo, the tech giant’s think tank focused on pushing the limits of creativity through technology.

Talking to Rachel Arthur in a live recording of TheCurrent Innovators podcast from the FashMash Pioneers event in London, he said: “The way we think is always user-first. Are we really solving something for somebody here? …At Google we’re about solving problems at scale.”

That attitude should be applied to every business, including those in the fashion and retail vertical, he explains. The Zoo is a small team that is designed to be a conduit between creative agencies and Google’s own products, its engineering teams and its data. The result is all manner of both creative and technology-driven projects for different industries, from a coded couture dress for H&M’s Ivy Revel brand, to an advertising campaign redefining what masculinity really looks like today from Axe.

While Roope admits some are more PR or headline-driven than others, his process, whether the result incorporates buzzworthy terms like augmented reality, artificial intelligence or beyond, always comes back to whether the solution is something that answers a consumer need. “What shifts the bottom line is making things more relevant, and making them simpler. [It’s about answering] what do people really want?” he asks.

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Anchoring much of that work these days however, comes data. “[At Google], we have seven to eight products that have over one billion users monthly, and so we have a really great understanding of what people are doing… and what they’re thinking,” he explains.

That insight is what informs the work his team does as a result, while machine learning (ML) then takes it to the next level, Roope notes. He refers to ML as an area that’s not yet being explored to its full potential.

“We’re in the middle of two massive revolutions – one of which is still the smartphone coming from 10 years ago, and now the rise of machine learning.” He refers to this as not only a powerful and extraordinarily interesting tool that allows you to fix problems in a way you couldn’t have done before, but as the most exciting underpinning to the future we’re currently building.

It’s completely reshaping what our world looks like, and what opportunities there are for brands in it as a result, he explains.

To get there, he says experimentation for all industries – including fashion and retail – is key. “For me, you’re not going to sit and discover the future by dwelling on it… it’s all about test and learn,” he explains.

As to where it will take us, he adds: “There’s a great quote by Bill Gates that says we tend to overestimate what’s going to happen in two years, but underestimate what will happen in the next 10. If you look back 10 years, we didn’t have smartphones, but in two years nothing’s happened. Only when we look over a good chunk of time do we see how much it’s changed.”

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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data e-commerce Editor's pick Podcast Retail

Yoox Net-a-Porter on nailing the basics of e-commerce

TheCurrent's Rachel Arthur and Yoox Net-a-Porter's Paolo Mascio recording TheCurrent Innovators podcast - e-commerce
TheCurrent Innovators: Paolo Mascio with Rachel Arthur

There’s little point in looking at all of the innovation surrounding e-commerce today, if you don’t first have the basics in place, Paolo Mascio president of online flagships at Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, explains on the most recent episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

“If you can’t get the fundamentals right, forget about artificial intelligence,” he says. “Really, execution is the key word. It’s very easy to mess up with your customers… A bad customer experience is even worse than not giving [them] an experience at all. It’s better not to open Russia or China if you can’t serve them in the proper way. Discontent spreads… which is setting the base for a failure in the future as well.”

Both Yoox and Net-a-Porter are businesses known for their innovative approaches to e-commerce – the former for supporting brands on running their own operations, and the latter for its first-rate customer experience. While together they’re focused on maintaining their market leading position, many of their partners and clients by comparison represent an industry still getting to grips with how to handle multichannel commerce.

Mascio references the shift to convenience, or of frictionless customer experiences in an omnichannel world, as the foundation of e-commerce expectations today. But it’s service, he says, that can be the key point of differentiation for brands – especially those in the luxury space – comparative to multi brand retailers.

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Underneath that, what’s driving brand growth and loyalty today, is data, he notes. “Data is one of the fundamental things around which, not only our company, but the brands themselves are going to build their future.”

This is the big shift still taking place in luxury, he adds. “Most brands up to a few years ago thought they were all unique, now they’re all struggling to distinguish themselves in the digital space.”

“For decades the brands have built their success around their collections, around the designers’ names, and the designers’ abilities, around advertising, but they haven’t tracked down what the customer’s behavior was,” he explains, noting that today, it’s the customer that has the biggest voice.

Those who can understand their customer and use analytics to better serve them, are the ones who will win. On top of that, and only then, comes the next step forward, he explains. Personalization, for instance, is something Mascio is watching closely. Artificial intelligence (Yoox Net-a-Porter is working with IBM Watson), is going to be the facilitator that transforms how people shops for the very reason it enables the brand to manage customers on a one-to-one basis at scale, he says.

In terms of the user interface, another area he’s keeping an eye on, is that of voice technology. “I believe voice controlled systems [will] play quite a fundamental role in the future,” he says. “It will take time… but then there will be a need for a brand to evolve their interfaces, so that customers can use voice to search for products in a much easier way.”

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.