AI Grocery Amazon Go Opens
Amazon has opened Amazon Go, a grocery store using artificial intelligence (AI), prompting speculation about its potential effects on the labor market, worries about consumer privacy and skepticism about how well it will work. Shoppers scan a smartphone app at a turnstile as they enter, then items are added to a virtual shopping cart as shoppers pull them off the shelf. If the shopper puts the item back on a shelf, the item is deleted from the cart. When shoppers leave the store, their credit cards are charged for the total. The store reportedly uses machine learning algorithms and computer-vision image processing along with weight sensors, camera-friendly bar codes and infrared sensors to track products as they leave shelves and the store.
The store’s technology hit speed bumps before its unveiling. Amazon Go’s opening was delayed by a year as the company fine-tuned and tested the technology; among early bugs was the cameras’ inability to distinguish shoppers with similar body types. A test visit that included children found systemic errors when the children picked up items and put them back down in random places throughout the store. In addition, the technology disallows people from helping fellow shoppers by grabbing products off shelves because the person who moves an item is the shopper charged for it.
Privacy experts are reportedly concerned about the data Amazon may be collecting about shoppers. Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown University Law Center, reportedly told The Washington Post, “Are they really only tracking you when you lift the item off a shelf? Or are they tracking where you move throughout the store, what you’re looking at, what sections you’re dwelling in?” Additional questions persist about the effect on the labor market because the wide use of similar technologies could affect the 3.5 million people who work as cashiers. Amazon Go employs about 10 people to make food, stock shelves and check identification for alcohol purchases along with floor employees who troubleshoot problems. The company reportedly told The New York Times that the new technology changes the roles of retail employees rather than eliminating them, but a Bloomberg editorial speculates, “There’s a decent chance this marks the earliest days of a dramatic shift in retail, one that calls for a fundamental rethinking of labor allocation, technology investments and how to approach customer service in stores.”