Almost a year ago, Amazon unveiled in Seattle the first store offering no checkout lines, no cashiers, and almost no human interaction: Amazon Go. I reviewed the store the very first day it opened and I wrote about my experience and the many tests I did on that first visit. I called it “the future of retail” on my review.
Since that chilling Seattle night in January, Amazon opened a few more Go stores across the U.S. and even started experimenting with a smaller fully-unattended version. Other industry players have also been making progress, and when Microsoft and Kroger announced that they were testing a futuristic grocery store, I knew I had to try it.
Every time I go back home to Spain, I spend a considerable amount of time tuning up my family’s devices. My mom’s Surface is stuck on some big update, my dad’s phone doesn’t have the Weather app that he wants, etc. Technology nowadays is more complicated than it should be, and older generations are not usually well equipped to troubleshoot issues. Nonetheless, most tech companies are working towards a future without complicated user interfaces, a future controlled by natural language commands that even a 5 year old can master. Artificial intelligence is at the center of this future.
Eric Migicovsky is a Partner at Y Combinator, one of the top of U.S. startup accelerators, and he was previously Founder and CEO at Pebble, the company that created the first commercially successful smartwatch. Last Friday, he was interviewed by Adora Cheung (another YC Partner) on being an entrepreneur at the intersection of hardware and software. Here you can read a summary of my five biggest takeaways.
The past couple of weeks have been a big roller coaster for MoviePass. I got to experience the Thursday July 26 outage when I was going to see a movie with a friend. We were upset but decided to go for happy hour instead which turned out to be great. The next day we found out it was because they had run out of money which indicated that the end was near. MoviePass was able to get their emergency loan and service was restored. On Friday my friends wanted to see Mission Impossible but the option was grayed out however, after refreshing several times, I was able to get a ticket with an outrageous $6 surcharge. This grayed option turned out to be a change in plans where new movies were not going to be offered anymore. This was a breaking moment for me. I had to make a decision to stay or not before I would be charged the next month.
How many times have you heard that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is humanity’s biggest threat? Some people think that Google brought us a step closer to a dark future when Duplex was announced last month, a new capability of Google’s digital Assistant that enables it to make phone calls on your behalf to book appointments with small businesses. You can see it in action here:
No joke. Google Assistant will start making phone calls to small businesses to make appointments on you behalf. It's called Google Duplex. The AI caller even adds uhmms and hmms #io18pic.twitter.com/r5Ie33YFEc
The root of the controversy lied on the fact that the Assistant successfully pretended to be a real human, never disclosing its true identity to the other side of the call. Many tech experts wondered if this is an ethical practice or if it’s necessary to hide the digital nature of the voice.
I looked at the “Buy Bitcoin” button and paused, was I ready to do it? had I read enough articles explaining what is blockchain? 2017 had just closed after an all-time high for cryptocurrencies, and according to many enthusiasts, it was just the beginning. I felt like I was missing out, so I pushed the button and sat back. I felt confident, but in reality, I had no idea what I was doing.
I passively consumed news about Bitcoin for years, but I never went deep enough to properly understand the technology behind it and its potential. Even though I followed the ultimate rule of “investing only what you can afford losing”, the truth is that I only began to comprehend blockchain technology after I already got my feet wet. I started losing money shortly after my first order completed, these are the 4 lessons I learned since then.
1. A big Bitcoin dive can drag the rest of the crypto market with it
There is so much speculation around cryptocurrencies and so many people investing in them without having a clue, that a moment of panic can snowball into a sudden market crash. A Bitcoin crash can affect many investors’ confidence in other cryptocurrencies (or altcoins), dragging their price down as well.
Many altcoins are variants of Bitcoin with small code differences, making their prices change practically in parallel to Bitcoin’s.
I have been waiting since college on RFID’s failed promise to deliver a walk-away checkout experience, and Amazon finally made it possible. After reading my co-blog writer’s experience in the Amazon Go store I had to check it out for myself and was excited for it. All my friend’s pictures were of long lines, but thankfully I am a morning person and there was no line when I got there. My goal was to pretend I had no idea what it was or how it worked. My experience overall was good, with the exception of the on-boarding process. I was greeted with a condescending “oh, you don’t have the app?” and was asked to stay aside. My T-Mobile reception was very poor so it took me a bit to get started. Once I downloaded the app and signed into my Amazon account everything was smooth. Mission accomplished! In this post, I’m not going to talk about the actual store (Ivan did a great job already) but about the implications of the first tangible and successful AI automated store.
Automation has always been part of our history. Automation has helped us evolve into the society we have now. Such as, automating how we grow and crop food so we can have a good food supply, the industrial revolution to make things faster and cheaper, the assembly line to make them even faster and cheaper, and finally computers to automate processes and tasks. Now, AI is here and it will automate all of our productivity.
“The craziest thing I’ve seen is someone who came in dressed in a Pikachu costume,” said an Amazon employee while she handed me a promotional bag with the Amazon Go logo on one side and the text ‘good food fast’ on the other.
I arrived at the new store in downtown Seattle around 7:20 pm and was surprised to see the line of people still reached the end of the block. It had been a cold day in Seattle but that didn’t discourage the hundreds of people who came to see the ‘magical’ store on day 0. I didn’t use the term ‘magical’ lightly here: the experience was truly unique and it felt too good to be true. Amazon Go is probably the store with more sensors on the planet right now, and it is intimidating:
Each of those boxes on the ceiling are cameras connected to deep learning algorithms that analyze every move you make: which aisle you walk through, what items you grab to read and then return to the shelf, what items you put in your pockets or bag… everything to ensure you only get charged for what you take home. But also, everything to ensure your shopping pattern is studied and well understood. Maybe not today, but it’s the inevitable next step and the ultimate dream for any retail store: to know what their customers like and the type of advertisements that will work best on them.
When Nintendo released the Switch last year I was very surprised by what they had been able to achieve, take the gaming industry on a spin (again). Once again they proved that they can innovate in a crowded space with deep pocket rivals. They were able to achieve something fun, flexible and that meets our new lifestyle not by thinking of specs but thinking of use cases. They understand people still want to play but they don’t do it just in a living room, so they would meet them where they are by providing play flexibility (great article about that here). Now, with Labo they have done something I consider priceless: enable kids to imagine, play and dream by connecting both the physical world and the digital one.
I have to be honest, I did not buy the Switch right away and when I did I played it and then returned it. Sometimes there is a price for innovation. To me, the Switch has two big drawbacks. First it is the lack of games. I could care less for Zelda (yeah yeah hate me) and some of the other games are just “meh”. However, it was the release of Mario Odyssey that finally made me get it. I loved it, it was fun, I could play at home and take it with me. I bought my Switch just before my holiday trip and took it on the road with me. This meant playing with the Joy-Cons inserted to make a huge Gameboy. I’m a big guy and I am very jumpy and move around when playing. Towards the end of the trip my Switch started to break. My gameplay would stop every minute because they would get disconnected (guess I can’t be that excited while playing). Turned out that the price to pay for the hardware flexibility was ruggedness. So when it was time to return, I could exchange or return and decided for the former due to lack of games.
I thought that would be the end of my Switch journey but this week Nintendo announced Labo. Nintendo has always been great at thinking outside the box. Some of these product work (Wii, Amiibos) and some don’t (VirtualBoy, Wii U) and that is the price to pay to try new things. What amazes me is Nintendo’s relentless pursuit of not thinking about what is the next big technology push they can do, but how to enable new ways to bring playfulness into our lives.