Thursday, May 23, 2024

Does Amazon’s cashless Just Walk Out technology rely on 1,000 workers in India?

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Does Amazon’s touchless technology, which allows customers to grab what they need on shelves and “Just Walk Out” without going to a cash register, really rely on human workers in India to review the purchases?

The Seattle-based retailer, which on Tuesday said it was swapping the Just Walk Out technology at more than half of its 40 Amazon Fresh grocery stores for smart carts, won’t really say.

While the Just Walk Out technology sends shoppers their receipts after they’ve left the store, Amazon Dash carts show customers what they will be charged for each item in real time on a screen, while also allowing shoppers to bypass a register. Amazon said the change occurring at its Amazon Fresh grocery stores is in response to customer feedback but it will continue to use the Just Walk Out technology at more than 130 third-party partners, which include airports, college stores and cafes.

At those locations, the company claims sensors, cameras and other tools help track what a shopper has purchased. But several media outlets have reported that there may be more to it, with hundreds of workers in India playing a key role.

How does Just Walk Out know what I’m buying?

On its website, AWS, a separate division of Amazon, said customers using Just Walk Out technology can walk into a store using Amazon One (where customers can register their palm to connect with their payment method), a credit/debit card, or an app, shop for items and leave. Customers are automatically charged for their purchases.

“Sensors, cameras and deep learning tools sense what a consumer takes off the shelf,” the website said.

An Amazon spokesperson explained further: “Just Walk Out technology is made possible by artificial intelligence like computer vision and deep learning techniques, including generative AI, to accurately determine who took what in any retail environment. Amazon built synthetic datasets to mimic millions of realistic shopping scenarios – including variations in store format, lighting conditions, and even crowds of shoppers – to ensure accuracy in any environment.”

However, several media outlets have said that workers in India may also be significantly involved.

Like many artificial intelligence systems, Amazon’s system relies on human moderators and data labelers, who review Just Walk Out transactions and label footage to help train the AI models that make it work, CNBC said. The Information reported last year that the team was made up of more than 1,000 employees, primarily based in India, according to CNBC. An Amazon spokesperson confirmed at the time that it uses human moderators but declined to say how many people it employs in these roles, according to The Information report.

Business Insider cited more reporting by The Information on Tuesday, that said Just Walk Out is still very reliant on humans, according to an unnamed person The Information said had worked on the technology.

About 700 of every 1,000 Just Walk Out sales had to be reviewed by Amazon’s team in India in 2022, according to The Information, as reported by Business Insider. Internally, Amazon wanted just 50 out of every 1,000 sales to get a manual check, according to the report.

What is Amazon saying?

In a statement on Thursday, an Amazon spokesperson took issue with the media reports.

The misconception that Just Walk Out technology relies on human reviewers watching shoppers live from India is misleading and inaccurate,” an Amazon spokesperson said via an e-mail statement to USA TODAY. “As with many AI systems, the underlying machine learning model is continuously improved by generating synthetic data and annotating actual video data.

Smart technology: Why Amazon is ditching Just Walk Out checkouts at grocery stores

“Our associates validate a small portion of shopping visits by reviewing recorded video clips to ensure that our systems are performing at our high bar for accuracy, which is made possible because we continuously improve both our algorithms and use human input to correct them.”

Betty Lin-Fisher is a consumer reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at blinfisher@USATODAY.com or follow her on X, Facebook, or Instagram @blinfisher. Sign up for our free The Daily Money newsletter, which will include consumer news on Fridays, here.

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