It is a known fact that all the big names in the digital industry are doing research in Artificial Intelligence. To clearify: Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence that is exhibited by machines. What is sought are computers that acts like a flexible rational agent that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of success.
While the first applications of AI are already showing up (e.g. deep machine learning, the independent robots of google), behind the scenes Facebook, Google, Elon Musk and other big companies are trying to keep up with each other and become the leader in AI.
During this race it is very important to be an open company and to share (at least a substantial part) of your research/knowledge with other companies, according to the AI head of Facebook, Yann LeCun. ‘When you do research in secret, you fall behind’ is what LeCun said to wired.com earlier this year. To give strength to this idea Facebook joined the Elon Musk-backed startup OpenAI, an open source platform on which researchers within and outside companies are enabled to freely share all their (or at least the most as possible) research on AI. Facebook finds themselves joined by Google, Microsoft and as mentioned above, Elon Musk. Which lets the platform add great value for the AI departments of each of these mentioned companies.
You might ask yourself now where the name of Apple remains in this blogpost. Of course, Apple is also doing research into on AI, since it will probably play a big role within their future business models. However, Apple has some difficulties by keeping up because of their Steve-Jobsian secrecy policy. Which is the principle of Apple that the researchers that work for them are not allowed to publish or share their research with the outside world. Although this policy might helped or still helps Apple to remain ahead of their competitors, it clearly drops them behind in the case of AI.
It looks like Apple recognized this weakness too and took action earlier this year by hiring Russ Salakhutdinov as the one that oversees Apple’s AI group. And let it be so that the Carnegie Mellon professor is allowed to still spend some of his time at the university. On top of this, he announced last week that he is going to start publishing journal articles and spend time on talking with academics.
This change in policy, might open up the way for Apple to get back at the level of their competitors on AI. However, there could be another problem for Apple, which is about the contribution to platforms like OpenAI. To produce proper research and contribution to the platform, a large amount of digital data is needed and this might be difficult for Apple. The company has currently very strict privacy policies that could block the research that has to done by Apple. So, as it seems Apple has one more problem to solve, to get back into the race.
Artificial Intelligence Just Broke Steve Jobs’ Wall of Secrecy
Nowadays a lot of retail companies make use of self-scanning cash desks, to make the checkout process faster and more comfortable for the customer. However, last week web shop Amazon opened the first real-world supermarket in which the customer can pick their groceries and walk out without standing in a line at a cash desk. The customers check in with the Amazon Go application on their smartphone and can walk out, while the checkout is automatically done via their smartphone. Which could solve one of the biggest nuisances of grocery shoppers.
The supermarket is named Amazon Go and the first location is based in Amazon’s hometown Seattle, where Amazon employees are testing the concept right now.
The Amazon Go supermarket makes use of ‘Just Walk Out’ technology, which is based on computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning. This means that the technology uses sensors across the supermarket and artificial intelligence to track the customers and the products that they pick out of the shelves. Although Amazon is acting secretive about the way their technology exactly works, retail tech specialists believe that the technology that is introduced is actually enforceable.
In my opinion this step of Amazon is good development for the company and the industry, since it actually enforces a completely new way of shopping in physical stores, which will provide new impulses for customers to keep on shopping in physical retail stores. Besides this Amazon forces the customers that would like to make use of the store to open an account with Amazon, to finish the transactions related to the products that are purchased during a visit. With this obligation Amazon will get more feet on the ground in the banking sector. Furthermore Amazon will gather a new kind of data by tracking customers behaviour within the store in an unrivalled way. With this data Amazon will be a step ahead of other retailers that do not use technologies like this yet and be able to increase the recommendations, service and experience for the customer.
Despite all these advantages, it is questionable whether the concept will actually appeal to the customers of today and will be enforced by competitors to subsequently really change the industry. For now it is still cheaper for retailers to put a cashier behind a cash desk to fulfil the checkout process. And on top of this, the cashier behind the cash desk fulfils an important function for a lot of customers that actually don’t hate the standing in the line and wait for other customers to pay part of the physical retail stores. They can answer questions and attend the customer on promotions or entire loyalty programs, which will lead to a continuous stream of customer data.
Only Amazon Could Make a Checkout-Free Grocery Store a Reality