Amazon Go Storms the Retail Barricades

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Perhaps in the near future, historians will trace a major economic upheaval back to this point in time. In downtown Seattle, on January 22, a catalyst for change was unveiled to the public. A technologically-sophisticated grocery store, dubbed Amazon Go, allows shoppers to put items into their bags and then leave without any kind of checkout process. I went to Seattle to visit the store in its second week. 

Amazon Go represents a revolution in retail. As in all revolutions, power dynamics will shift, people will get hurt, and previously impossible things will become possible. There is excitement in the air--and also fear. In this instance, the collateral damage could include some of the 3.5 million cashiers employed throughout the United States. A Cornerstone Capital Group report indicates that “large-scale automation of retail labor could disproportionately affect women.”

The revolution will not be televised. However, it will be filmed -- by about 100 cameras mounted to metal beams, and intricately wired on a dark ceiling. Amazon Go is capable of monitoring and automatically billing all of its customers by using computer vision, sensors, and deep learning. This isn't self-checkout, it's no-checkout. And it will add to the toll of automation-induced casualties.

The entire process of shopping becomes quick and effortless -- but lines, chit-chat, and cashiers are no longer a part of it. Of course, some critics might argue that the cashiers aren't collateral damage at all; they're the intended target of this revolution. Amazon has willfully designed an AI-powered system of sensors that will allow retailers to lay off redundant staff, and increase profitability.

Next: It's more complicated than that.

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