Data Ethics Club meeting 08-05-24, 1pm UK time#

Meeting info#


You’re welcome to join us for our next Data Ethics Club meeting on 8th May at 1pm UK time. You don’t need to register, just pop in. This time we’re going to watch/read Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology relies on hundreds of workers in India watching you shop by Alex Bitter, which is an article in the Business Insider about Amazon’s hidden real human workforce behind its supposedly AI-powered checkout-free stores.

Thank you to Nina di Cara for suggesting this week’s content and Vanessa Hanschke for writing the summary below. The article itself is very short, so is worth reading in full if you have time!


Amazon’s Just Walk Out stores have been touted to provide a seamless shopping experience where customers can automatically pay by placing objects in their physical shopping basket. The contents are analysed using computer vision technology and customers therefore completely avoid interacting with a cashier. However, an unnamed person claims that in 2022 as many as 700 out of 1000 sales had to be reviewed by Amazon’s team in India according to a report in The Information. In response, an Amazon spokesperson said that main contribution of the team in India is to train the model and only validate “a small minority of shopping visits”. This story has broken along with Amazon’s announcement of introducing Dash Carts (essentially a smart shopping cart with a display, scanner and scales) to replace Just Walk Out.

The technology is implemented in 27 of 44 Amazon Fresh stores and some Whole Foods stores. Other startups are testing similar technology in Aldi.

Discussion points#

There will be time to talk about whatever we like, relating to the paper, but here are some specific questions to think about while you’re reading.

  • What do you think about Amazon selling human reviewers as computer vision?

  • If Amazon’s response to the claim is true, would that change the way you think of the technology? Why or why not?

  • What do you think of the various types of automation in grocery stores? Are they convenient, desirable or worse for the shopping experience? Do you make use of them?