Microsoft’s digital shelf is a (messy) competitor of Amazon Go

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.

Kroger’s new digital shelf, powered by Microsoft’s technology.
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My 95-year-old grandma’s first experience with Alexa

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.

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Why I replaced my laptop with an iPad Pro

The new iPad Pro is out. It has thin bezels, no home button, Face ID and it’s more powerful than any other tablet in the market. It’s so powerful that Apple is daring to compare it with laptops in terms of performance (and sales). And yet, many tech media sites rushed to publish their favorite headline when it comes to the iPad: “it still cannot replace your laptop”. Well, I’m here to refute that idea; I replaced my laptop with an iPad Pro months ago.

iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard Folio
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Thank you MoviePass and goodbye

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.

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4 lessons I learned losing money on Bitcoin

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.

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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.

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Amazon Go: A.I.’s grim face?

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.

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Exterior of the Amazon Go 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.

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I experienced the future of retail: Amazon Go

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:

The ceiling of the Amazon Go store

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.

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Why is Net Neutrality important?

In a few days, on December 14th, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to change how the internet is regulated in the United States. The impact on how regular users like you and me access information online could be massive, and here’s why.

Currently, there is policy around open communications, mandating that the treatment of traffic should be non-discriminatory: broadband providers cannot get in the way, they cannot censor or make deals that benefit certain types of content over others. For example, Comcast is not allowed today to treat Netflix differently than any other new video streaming startup.

The FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai (who worked as Associate General Counsel at Verizon), is proposing to vote to remove these rules in favor of a less regulated internet. Fewer regulations means, according to their main argument, that the amount of investments made by telecommunication companies will stop decreasing. However, the same data that the FCC used shows that investments have been flat at worse (or actually increased at best) since 2013.

The FCC also argues that if any corporation starts misbehaving, consumers can take their business elsewhere. Nonetheless, more than 50% of the US population only has access to one single internet provider, so they cannot even vote with their wallets. The only way to defend consumers rights will be through litigation and class action lawsuits.

Is everything bad in the new proposed plan? No, there is one important point that will be critical to detect future abuses: broadband providers are obligated to be transparent about their traffic practices; in other words, if Comcast made a deal to promote Netflix over any other streaming service, or if they started blocking or throttling certain sites, it would have to be public knowledge (even if that just means one more line in the fine print at the end of a contract).

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Visiting the Oculus office in Seattle: is augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) the future of user interfaces?

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of visiting the Oculus Seattle office for a private tour, some cool demos and a very interesting conversation. During the whole visit, a question kept popping up in my mind: will augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) ever become the standard way of interacting with our desktop or mobile devices?

User interfaces have evolved over the years in very significant ways: we moved from punched cards to command-line interfaces, and from there to graphical interfaces, which ended up evolving into what we know today, mouse, keyboard and touch. With recent advances in artificial intelligence, we are beginning to transition into conversational interfaces, where we can use natural language to get things done, sometimes even without touching a button or reading a line of text.

Is the future of user interfaces an (almost) invisible one? In many cases, yes, just watch the 2014 movie Her to see a glimpse of where we will be in a few years (minus the “falling in love” part):

However, for many other tasks we will still need to read, type, touch and draw. This doesn’t mean that we will be tied forever to a screen, and here’s where VR and AR come in.

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How Mexico is using technology to help people after the 7.1 earthquake: interview with Paulina Bustos

Is that an earthquake?” the candidate asked with their eyes wide open, as everything around us started shaking. On September 19th, a 7.1 earthquake hit Central Mexico shortly after 1pm, and I was there interviewing university candidates for Microsoft. We were able to exit the building without issues, and even though my phone was unable to make any calls, it had data connectivity, allowing me to contact my family and friends over WhatsApp.

Many others weren’t so lucky: 369 people were killed, and over 6,000 were injured. The earthquake occurred on the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, which killed around 10,000 people. After spending the following days inspired by the amazing reaction of the Mexican society, united and determined to help each other, I wondered how different the situation would have been without technology’s help. How long would it take for people to find out if their families and friends were OK? How would they be able to find help or where help was needed?

My good friend Paulina Bustos was the perfect person to talk about these issues, so I decided to interview her. Paulina studied Computer Science at the Tecnológico de Monterrey University, worked at Microsoft in Redmond, WA for over 3 years and is now living in São Paulo doing a Technology Fellowship with Artigo 19; she is the co-funder of Cívica Digital in Mexico, where she worked with several non-profit organizations and governments to strengthen citizenship using technology, and she also teaches Software Design & Analysis at ITAM University.

Where were you during the September 19th earthquake in Central Mexico and what was your immediate reaction when you realized the magnitude of the event?

I was in Sao Paulo in a meeting, when my cellphone started ringing with all the messages from family and friends. My oldest sister lives in Mexico City and she usually texts back within the first 5 minutes after an earthquake. This time she took almost an hour. I knew immediately that something was off.

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