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1000 Indians part of Amazon’s “generative AI” driven Just Walk Out project in Fresh stores: Report

Amazon is phasing out its Just Walk Out tech from all of its Fresh grocery stores in the US, according to a report in The Information. It would appear that what was billed as an AI endeavour included thousands of Indians adding items to carts and charging the customers depending on what objects they walked out with.

An Amazon Fresh store (Wiki Common)

Just Walkt Out was billed a self-checkout system powered by cameras and censors, giving the illusion of an automated system.

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Amazon had claimed: “The feat is a combination of computer vision, object recognition, advanced sensors, deep machine learning models, and generative AI—a type of artificial intelligence that has recently captured the public’s imagination.”

Jon Jenkins, vice president of Just Walk Out technology had said: “Our tech is able to distinguish shoppers from one another, without collecting or using any of their biometric information. Just Walk Out technology detects when a shopper’s hand interacts with a product on the shelf. When that happens, machine learning algorithms make sure the correct item is added to the virtual cart—all without any specific knowledge about the person.”

The truth however is a little less exciting.

A report in Gizmodo states: “Just over half of Amazon Fresh stores are equipped with Just Walk Out. The technology allows customers to skip checkout altogether by scanning a QR code when they enter the store. Though it seemed completely automated, Just Walk Out relied on more than 1,000 people in India watching and labeling videos to ensure accurate checkouts. The cashiers were simply moved off-site, and they watched you as you shopped.”

Further reports state that it was a very expensive affair to maintain the equipment and included a host of issues like receipts being sent late to completely wrong orders. Basically, instead of having a cashier, a vast array of equipment was needed to do the same thing and offsite cashiers were needed to do the same thing.

Reports further add that Amazon is now considering moving towards Dash Carts, a technology that has an inbuilt scanner and screen in the cart.

An Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo that they are rolling out Amazon Dash Cart to replace its Just Walk Out technology.

Just Walk Out was first introduced in 2016. According to a report in The Information, 700 out of the 1000 Just Walk Out sales required human intervention.

X users have a field day

X users were quite happy to learn about the human intervention that was required in Amazon’s Just Walk Out feature that bought into the old Silicon Valley myth that AI is actually powered by off-shore Indian workers.

Another user wrote: “Amazon billed its “Just Walk Out” stores as some triumph of AI. In reality, it was powered by thousands of low-paid Indian workers manually adding up items in your cart as you shopped. How insanely dystopian.”

Another pointed out: “It seems that in this case, “A.I.” stands for “Actually, we just relocated the cashier jobs to India”.”

A third said: “We’re gonna see more of this as AI spreads: technologies that promote efficiency by getting rid of superfluous jobs but actually just shuffle people out of view so companies can cut wages for the same position.”

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