The Opportunity and Danger of Artificial Intelligence in Retail

If a case of product is delivered to a store and left in the back room rather than unpacked and put on the shelf, a problem all too common in retail, the system registers a drop in product sales. A reasonable analysis of the data assumes that the demand for the product has decreased and the product is either being discontinued by the retailer or new orders are reduced. Now artificial intelligence (AI) comes along and using data or cameras or both realizes that demand hasn’t gone down, there’s an operational issue that’s driving sales down. If the system is a full suite of AI software, according to Bill Inzeo, Global Retail Technology Strategist at Zebra Technologies

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, it will create and prioritize a list of tasks that need to be completed in the store and the problem of checkouts being left behind will be solved.

This is a small example of how AI works; he finds problems and finds ways to solve them. He shows management what is really going on and implements solutions. It exposes the reality of a situation in order to be able to improve it. It automatically implements corrective actions to achieve its objectives without any human intervention.

A new book co-authored by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt

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, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Daniel Huttenlocher, Dean of MIT and President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, titled The Age of AI and Our Human Future raises concerns about where AI is taking us. Of course, the solution to the lost checkout at the back of the store is the good news about how AI can help retailers and consumers do more and better. But Schmidt/Kissinger/Huttenlocher claim that the software does more than just reveal data. They say it reveals a new reality, a reality that people cannot see without AI. They liken it to Plato’s most famous metaphor in which prisoners who live their lives from birth chained to a wall in a cave are suddenly taken outside the cave and realize that the reality they have observed n was only a reflection of what is real. The authors say the challenge of this is reminiscent of the creation of the Industrial Age; a new reality will be discovered and not all of its results will be good. They point out that a program called AlphaZero was created to win at chess. Once the program was briefed on how the pieces move, it had four hours to search the internet and master the game. After four hours, the program had the greatest masters, human and cyber, play and never lost a game. AlphaZero often wins by employing strategies no human mind has ever thought of. When it’s a game of chess, it’s interesting. But when the computer takes over a store’s strategy, develops strategies, and places tasks on to-do lists for humans to do, there’s no telling where that may lead. Depending on what the computer is asked to maximize, there can be harm to customers, employees, people’s safety and well-being when the computer chooses what people do next. The risk to workers, damage to consumers and the environment is potentially out of control when software attempts to maximize results without considering accidental damage.

We are at the very beginning of AI. There is almost no risk at the moment that we will see dangerous results for humans based on AI, it is only science fiction at the moment. But as AI develops, that will change, and with the pedigree of these authors, their warning is hard to dismiss out of hand. Schmidt/Kissinger/Huttenlocher say the time has come to establish guidelines for how the AI ​​will act and what its North Star will be. In their book, they talk a lot about nuclear weapons and diplomacy and these are certainly crucial issues for humanity. But most consumers encounter big business primarily when shopping, retail is their point of contact for how they experience big business. And this is where the evil can begin. It’s great that the crate forgotten at the back of a store can be put into circulation and sold to consumers. But unless we start establishing general guidelines now for how AI will work and what its priorities will be, no one can predict what kind of reality the software will create. When an AI software is assigned a goal, it maximizes all variables to achieve the goal. Chess software demonstrates that AI can create strategies humans can’t imagine. Without agreed guidelines, it could be anything. Because it’s early days, now is the time for the industry to speak out about the risks of AI and act with one voice for the long-term benefit of all.

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