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FedEx CTO on Leveraging Generative AI, AI Summit NY 2023

Adam Smith discusses how the company is using generative AI to drive business value, transform processes

Deborah Yao

December 7, 2023

3 Min Read
Informa editorial director Chuck Martin, left, talks to FedEx CTO Adam Smith, right, at the AI Summit New York.
Informa editorial director Chuck Martin (left) talks to FedEx CTO Adam Smith (right)AI Business

FedEx CTO Adam Smith said the company is continuously looking at innovation to improve business operations, which includes the latest developments in generative AI.

He said the company looks at generative AI in three buckets. First, as an “applied technology” company, FedEx routinely works with several partners to use their platforms to help it run its business.

“We're really leaning into those partners as they advance those platforms with internal generative AI capabilities. How do we tap into that to drive value for our business?” he said, in conversation with Chuck Martin, editorial director of AI and IoT at Informa Tech, the parent division of AI Business, at the AI Summit New York 2023.

Second, FedEx looks to build generative AI applications to transform its core processes. “We're generally a build company when it comes to the core of what we do. You can't buy – at the size and scale on which we operate − off the shelf.”

That has been the approach of FedEx in the past: building its own applications to support its size and breadth of operations.

“What we're thinking about is how do we actually leverage generative AI and some of those core processes, lean into some of the large language models, optimizing to get more efficiency out of the processes we have to drive greater business value for both operations and our customers?”

Related:Why Enterprises Struggle to Operationalize AI, AI Summit NY 2023

FedEx wants to marry the troves of data it has with large language models to drive better outcomes, he said.

Thirdly, FedEx wants to use generative AI to improve the developer experience. “Not just the coding developer, but a lot of the different disciplines. So how do we drive greater consistency and efficiency in what the developers are doing, leaning into some of the capabilities recently in the market from a generative AI point of view,” Smith said.

Asked for his advice to other C-suite leaders about generative AI, Smith said that “if leaders don’t have small teams working in the generative AI space right now, with very focused outcomes, they are behind.”

Autonomous Trucks

Smith said when it comes to digital transformation, one of the key things FedEx thinks about is how to drive more automation.

One project uses AI and robotics to optimize the packing of boxes of all shapes and sizes. “Think about that as a large game of Tetris,” Smith said. Robotics and AI are “helping us optimize how to basically place packages in … trailers” to maximize the use of available space.

Another project under development that uses AI and automation is autonomous delivery trucks. FedEx is testing them in runs between two Texas cities, but still with a person sitting in the truck.

“They’re basically running the routes and we have tested thousands of miles between cities in Texas with zero … safety issues,” Smith said. 

Autonomous trucking solves the problem of not having enough drivers for long-haul routes.

“We’re seeing contraction in the workforce for those long-haul runs, and so we know that we’re going to need to find alternative ways to basically run with trailers between cities in the future,” he said.

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ChatGPT / Generative AI

About the Author(s)

Deborah Yao

Editor

Deborah Yao runs the day-to-day operations of AI Business. She is a Stanford grad who has worked at Amazon, Wharton School and Associated Press.

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