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.
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.
Last Saturday I found out about AlphaGo, Google DeepMind’s computer capable of beating the European champion at the game Go; it uses “deep neural networks that have been trained by supervised learning, from human expert games, and by reinforcement learning from games of self-play“, and it’s still unknown if humans can beat it.
Watching the project’s website I noticed the copyright at the bottom and thought: is DeepMind actually aligned with Google’s business goals? A quick look to their mission statement refreshed my memory:
Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
We live in a society where technology allows consumers to access creative content easier and faster than ever, so I wanted to better understand how some of these decisions (like Amazon’s new pay-per-page policy) affect the industry at its core. Below, you can read an interview with Mary C. Moore, author and literary agent.
Well, this is speculation and opinions on this strategy vary wildly across the board. As the way it stands now, the largest impact is going to be on the self-publishing authors who publish exclusively through Amazon. Beyond that, the effects will probably be felt on writing trends. A pay-per-page system skews in favor of high-paced, tension-filled, cliff-hanging writing that makes the reader continue to turn the page rather than some of the more subtle and nuanced books that perhaps favor lovely writing, or a surreal storyline, or something more abstract.
I’ve had the pleasure of using a new Kindle Fire HD for a week, and I have no doubt: it’s an awesome deal for just $139. There are a lot of reviews of the 7″ tablet, so I’ll simply focus on my thoughts on the product and Amazon itself.