US tech giant Amazon is set to opened a futuristic grocery store that uses its new ‘just walk out’ technology to make shopping more efficient. Customers are able to just pick up items and leave without having to queue up or wait in line to pay at the checkout.
After swiping a unique QR code provided by an accompanying smart-phone app when entering, customers are then free to take what items they need as their movements are being tracked by in-store cameras linked to a computer system similar to those found in self-driving cars. Through the use of deep learning algorithms and computer sensors, the system is able to detect and record what items shoppers pick out or return and automatically add them to their virtual cart. It then automatically sends the bill to their Amazon Prime account upon leaving the store.
One shop located in Seattle is currently in its Beta phase with plans to open up to the public in early 2017. Its success may lead to similar stores being constructed across the US and potentially the UK.
Widespread implementation of this form of smart technology in stores raises two main questions. First, this camera-assisted tracking technology potentially marks a new stage of automation in the retail industry that sees human employees being increasingly replaced order to maximise efficiency and cut expenses. Britt Beamer, the president of America’s Rsearch Group, estimating that this technology has the potential to wipe out 75 percent of grocery-store staff. As the implications of AI for jobs widen, questions for the future of work become more pressing. What skills will workers need in future societies? What work will we do? What role could universal basic income play?
Second, certain commentators have raised potential issues relating to the tracking system used in the store. Advocates for privacy have voiced concerns about surveillance and the potential for profiling customers depending on their shopping habits. Others have argued that the store is not sufficiently inclusive as it requires having access to a smart-phone or pointed to possible wariness of certain minority groups towards the technology. Despite offering an elegant solution that will dramatically cut the time it takes for customers to go shopping, the application of this technology raises a series of questions for society that will be important to address.