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Amazon Faces Criticism Over "Just Walk Out" Technology and AI-Washing Concerns

04.07.2024 03:00 AM
Amazon Faces Criticism Over "Just Walk Out" Technology and AI-Washing Concerns
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Amazon Faces Criticism Over "Just Walk Out" Technology and AI-Washing Concerns
Amazon has recently faced scrutiny over its "Just Walk Out" technology, installed in its Amazon Fresh and Amazon Go stores. This AI-powered system allows customers to pick up items and leave the store without traditional checkout, with sensors determining the items chosen and automatically billing the customer. 

However, in April, reports surfaced suggesting that this technology still required around 1,000 workers in India to manually check nearly three-quarters of transactions, raising questions about the actual level of AI automation involved.

Amazon quickly responded, stating that the reports were erroneous and that the Indian workers were merely reviewing the system rather than monitoring all video footage. Amazon emphasized that human reviewers are a standard part of any high-accuracy AI system.

This incident highlights a broader issue in the tech industry known as "AI washing," where companies make over-inflated claims about their use of AI. AI washing can involve various practices, from overstating the effectiveness of AI to merely adding an AI label to less sophisticated computing methods.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) enables computers to learn and solve problems by being trained on large amounts of data. Generative AI, a subset that includes chatbots like ChatGPT, Google's Gemini, and Microsoft's Copilot, specializes in creating new content.

AI washing occurs when companies claim to use AI while relying on traditional technologies, overstate the capabilities of their AI solutions, or use AI in a superficial manner. A significant number of tech start-ups have been found to exaggerate their AI capabilities, driven by the competitive funding landscape and the desire to appear cutting-edge.

AI washing can mislead consumers and investors, leading to overpayment for technology and unmet expectations. For example, in 2019, MMC Ventures found that 40% of AI start-ups used little to no AI. The issue persists today, with many firms using readily available AI tools but presenting them as proprietary innovations.

Regulatory bodies are starting to take action. In the US, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has charged investment advisory firms for false AI claims. The UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) also investigates misleading AI-related advertisements.

Experts suggest that AI washing may decline as AI becomes more ubiquitous and integrated into everyday products. Sandra Wachter from Oxford University emphasizes the need to use AI thoughtfully and consider its environmental impact. Over time, the novelty of AI claims may wear off, and the true value of AI will become clearer.

The scrutiny over Amazon's "Just Walk Out" technology serves as a reminder of the importance of transparency and honesty in AI claims. As AI continues to evolve, businesses must navigate the fine line between innovation and overstatement to maintain consumer trust and achieve genuine progress. 

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