The founder of China’s largest online retailer envisions a “100% robotic workforce”

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

There are particular industries and companies that lend themselves for full automation, and E-Commerce is just one of them.

 

“I hope my company would be 100% automation someday … no human beings anymore, 100% operated by AI and robots.” That’s Richard Liu’s audacious goal, which he outlined to Forbes recently in a rare interview conducted in English at the World Retail Congress in Madrid.

 

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He’s also not the only one with this thought or vision. Elsewhere Jack Ma the Founder of Alibaba said he saw the day coming when everyone, including a company’s CEO will be automated, at the same time as companies like Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest asset management firm with $160Billion under management are automating everything, and the world’s first fully autonomous hedge fund based out of Hong Kong kicks into gear. And all that’s before we discuss how Amazon now have have all the pieces of the jigsaw they need to become a fully autonomous retailer, from product design to fulfilment, and Apple’s main manufacturing partner Foxconn talk up their aspirations to become a fully autonomous manufacturing company – a move that could put 1.2 million people out of jobs.

 

Backstage with Richard Liu
 

In short, the emergence of fully autonomous organisations, or Distributed Autonomous Organisations as they are better known, that are run by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics, is an up ticking trend – and one I’m watching closely.

Liu is the 44 year old founder, CEO and chairman of JD.com (JD), which is China’s largest retailer by revenue, and in the top three E-Commerce companies globally. In fact at $55.7 billion in revenue last year, if ranked alongside all US retailers, JD would be just outside the top 10.

JD is a serious player, and deadly serious about AI and robotics. The company is investing $4.5 billion to build an AI center in Guandong province, and has set up its JD-X robotics research hub in Silicon Valley, led by the ex-Senior Research Manager of Amazon Go.

 

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Operationally, it’s clear that JD’s founder sees humans being removed from the entire retail process. Picture the near future for example – when a customer makes a purchase, the order will be picked by robots in a “people-free warehouse” (Liu’s term), then delivered by drone or a self-driving vehicle within 30 minutes, where the recipient will gain access to the package via facial recognition. AI technology will manage inventory and price products as well – far more efficiently than humans.

JD is already trialling robot delivery via “campus couriers” across several universities in Beijing, and is planning to build 200 drone airports in Southwest China, so as you can tell they’re serious – and all of this talk of “full” automation is just the tip of the iceberg that will change the future jobs landscape as we know it, from the emergence of Robo-Lawyers in the legal field, and even the automation of construction, cyber-securityfinanceprogramming, surgery and science.

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