Join us for VISIONS Summit NYC  - June 11

The Frictionless Fiction

PLUS: Dork Mode in the wild
April 3, 2024
Pictured: a Google Search result for Amazon’s marketing website for its now-abandoned cashierless technology.

Welcome to Wednesday, futurists! 

Last week on the podcast, we broke down the art collective Meow Wolf’s homage to our American culture of commerce: Omega Mart. The twisted supermarket-turned-augmented-reality-experience has a more profound message. 

Listen to the episode ad-free if you’re a Future Commerce+ subscriber, or wherever podcasts are found!

The Mechanical Turk

According to the oral history, the cloud computing era began with the launch of Amazon’s AWS, beginning with the product debut of the Simple Storage Service, or S3. 

But that’s wrong.

Nearly one full year before the launch of S3, Amazon launched a human-powered marketplace for fractionalized tasks, powered by thousands of part-time digital workers. It was called Amazon Mechanical Turk, or Mturk.

The name comes from an 18th-century traveling ‘Automaton Chess Player’ device, built to impress an Empress. This device concealed a living, very human chess master.

You may have seen social discourse about the news that Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology wasn’t actually “computer vision,” after all. According to a May 2023 story in The Information, it was powered by “1,000 workers located in India.” A modern version of the Mechanical Turk. How poetic.

The real news isn’t that Amazon tried to feign the future of shopping with frictionless checkout technology. The story should be that this is old news. The story was broken by The Information nearly one year ago, but it only mattered now that Amazon has discontinued the lackluster service in its own stores, admitting a form of defeat.

Critics cry: “If Amazon can’t employ the service effectively, how can it sell it as a solution for other retailers?”—meanwhile we’re asking “Does anyone pay for The Information?”

The “Just Walk Out™” technology had to begin somewhere, and for Amazon that began with a form of Turk. I think we all just had assumed that it would mature from there. You can’t blame them for trying. Their physical investment in frictionless checkout was an example of reverse skeuomorphism—when digital design patterns reinform how we build things in the physical world.

For any AI product to work it needs effective training data; which means that humans are at the heart of reinforcement, training, learning, and quality effort for AI. Yes, that means there are smart, hidden, humans that are posing as machines.

— Phillip

P.S. Are you making these ten mistakes in your checkout? Get our checklist of what NOT to do in our newest Guide, How to Lose a Customer in 10 Ways. Read up and get smarter.

Image Credit: Gavin via Unsplash

Sight & Sound. UPS is set to become the United States Postal Service's primary air cargo provider, replacing FedEx. Tokyo-based developer Nagai Industries announces inKONBINI: One Store. Many Stories., a slice-of-life game set in a 1990s Japanese convenience store.

Touch.  Amazon reportedly ditches 'Just Walk Out' checkouts at its grocery stores, moving away from a system that allowed customers to skip checkout lines.

The Palate. Sharp-eyed soft drink lovers noticed a camera hole in some Coca-Cola Freestyle machines. Velveeta launches a new hair dye that mimics its famous golden cheese color, debuted by Julia Fox. Spoiler: it’s not called UNCUH JAMZ. DS & DURGA's homepage update introduces a facet of 'dork mode' for their Black Magenta fragrance.

Image Credit: Laurenz Heymann via Unsplash

Apple AI researchers boast a new on-device model that reportedly ‘substantially outperforms GPT-4’. Billie Eilish and Nicki Minaj call for a stop to 'predatory' music AI, highlighting concerns over AI's use in replicating artists' voices without consent. A vigilante dressed as Batman dismantles ULEZ Cameras in London, challenging air quality control measures.

Subscribe to The Senses.

Commerce futurism.
Straight to your inbox.

Thank you for being a risk-taker.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Share This Post

Commerce futurism for the risk-takers.
Straight to your inbox.

By clicking Subscribe you're confirming that you agree with having The Senses delivered to your email address.
Thank you for subscribing.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.