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Sentient Technologies: The Retail Trailblazers

Babak Hodjat, CEO and Co-Founder, Sentient TechnologiesBabak Hodjat, CEO and Co-Founder As the world’s most disruptive minds gather around Antoine Blondeau, the CEO and co-founder of Sentient Technologies at London’s Tobacco Dock, he stirs their imagination by stating that humanity finally has access to profound AI as it has the potential to solve real-life problems. He says, “This is first base, the decade one of AI. There are lots of things we can do, going forward. We’ve just begun.”

Back then, Sentient’s system was already working on an unparalleled scale in the civilian sector. With two million CPU cores and 5,000 GPU cards distributed across 4,000 sites worldwide globally, Sentient’s first practical application of its AI system was in the financial sector. They built a system that created an artificially intelligent “species” of traders that would assist them to compete with their counterparts and eventually evolve to respond to changes in the markets. Although giants today in the space, Sentient and its legacy started way back in 2007 when while taking a shower and cooling himself down, Blondeau discovered the ‘voila’ moment, that would later form the business premise for Sentient Technologies. The idea was very simple: solve some of the world’s most complex problems with a distributed AI construct that would scale computing power, and then apply it to many different things. Babak Hodjat, the co-founder and chief scientist of Sentient Technologies states, “In 2007, Antoine Blondeau and I asked ourselves a simple but ambitious question: What great things could we accomplish by harnessing the world’s compute to develop artificial intelligence on a truly vast scale?”

Along with his companion, Hodjat, Blondeau took his firm from the stealth in 2014 and unveiled the initial result of its labors—a massively distributed AI platform. Having already proven its worth in the financial services sector, the platform was now ready to take on a host of new and varied global concerns. It was in 2015 that Sentient launched its online shopping product after establishing its first retail partnership with US shoe retailer Shoes.com.

Today, through Sentient Aware, their intelligent system for online shopping, the firm assists numerous organizations in deploying frictionless, intuitive, and personalized shopping experiences across all their digital channels.

The Promise of Intelligent Merchandising

The question that perplexes a retailer’s mind is to come with the most rewarding way to present a particular product to their shoppers. While product recommendation engines have gained traction on most e-commerce sites, the vast majority of them fall short of delivering truly personalized product selections.

We are trying to show you articles and items that are relevant to you, and will mean a lot to you, just like a shopping assistant would in real life


By providing a deep understanding of a product catalog and each shopper’s intent in real time, AI delivers on the promise of intelligent merchandising and one-to-one personalized experience that optimizes customer engagement, in turn increasing satisfaction and sales. Through their AI-powered retail solution, Aware, Sentient is opening the door to a new way of relating the retailers’ products to their shoppers. The firm applies its distributed artificial intelligence platform to achieve the promise of intelligent merchandising through their advanced product recommendation engine.

Designed primarily for the mobile-first world, Sentient Aware is AI-personalization that leverages single-API integration to Sentient’s AI Shopper Engine which provides e-commerce retailers with an entirely new interface. Just like a store associate, Sentient Aware knows a retailer’s merchandise and understands what each shopper is looking for in real time, connecting the right products to individual customers. In due time, it learns more about what they’re looking for while the consumers click their way toward their dream product. “There is no reason why catalogs cannot behave like a shopping assistant would, which means intelligently responding to how you browse and walk through it,” explains Blondeau. This helps ensure that customers always find the products they are specifically looking for each time they visit a retailer’s website and not products they no longer are interested in. In addition, the seamless and intuitive experience that the system produces increases the sales revenue of a retailer’s business.

"There is no reason why catalogs cannot behave like a shopping assistant would, which means intelligently responding to how you browse and walk through it"

By leveraging the power of graphics and images, Aware analyzes the buyers’ intent and guides them toward their desirable products. While Aware excels on mobile— increasing conversion rates by three times—it has been designed to work seamlessly on other devices as well. “We say a picture is worth a thousand words. That is what we are trying to achieve. We are trying to show you articles and items that are relevant to you, and will mean a lot to you, just like a shopping assistant would in real life because he or she understands your intent,” states Blondeau. The system uses each customer’s unique behavior, at the moment, to merchandise the retailers’ catalog.

Personalizing Every Shopper’s Journey

Sentient Aware’s AI analyzes the images from the retailers’ product catalog and understands the similarities between those products across hundreds of image vectors.
It works by building a model of the catalog to display products that are most similar to the product that a shopper has clicked on in the past, accounting even for subtleties that can be difficult to articulate. It then combines its understanding of the products and the shoppers to deliver new, better-performing customer experiences through better product selection, navigation, and recommendations, across all of the retailers’ key digital touchpoints.

Antoine Blondeau, Chairman and Co-Founder, Sentient Technologies

Aware leverages deep learning to understand the retailers’ catalog and shoppers’ needs, each time they come to a retailers’ website. Every click trains Aware’s AI about what a customer is interested in, which allows it to serve more personalized choices as shoppers explore a catalog. Once Sentient Aware understands the initial catalog, it can include any new product in subsequent results it displays.

To leverage Sentient Aware across their e-commerce site, retailers need a one-time AI integration. By implementing Aware’s “Shop the Look” capabilities, retailers can provide a perfect shopping experience as they can recommend exact products on the product detail page based on the shoppers’ requirements. Further, with Aware, retailers can deploy AI on their online store without installing anything server-side or configuring anything on the backend. It also includes UI components that retailers can leverage right out of the box, making it easy to get AI running on their site.

A War Chest on the Disposal

Being the world’s highest-funded AI company, Sentient is focused on building out their unique capabilities in deep learning to solve real-world problems in industries such as e-commerce, trading, and healthcare. “At the forefront of those battles are Sentient-powered image recognition and analysis capabilities that we call visual intelligence,” mentions Hodjat.

In addition, the firm is selectively considering acquisitions to bolster its presence in more landscapes and to solve more business problems. Blondeau adds, “There are great people out there and great technology that can complement our portfolio.” The CEO believes that the next opportunity beyond this is to build a path to third and fourth verticals. In years to come, the firm will continue to build out its truly intelligent system, looking to new scientific fields like artificial life to develop AI concepts that enable organizations and individuals worldwide to see more, decide better, and act faster.