For some, it’s a dream come true: The ability to walk into a grocery store, grab anything you want off the shelves, and simply walk out.
There’s no need to wait in line at a busy cash register. Your bank account will be automatically debited when you leave the store. It’s magical.
Amazon says it started working on this new shopping experience four years ago, using the same technology applied to driverless cars. Now it’s launching the new app that makes it a reality.
So the day is coming when people will be able to pull up to cashier-less stores in their driverless car, leaving their cashless wallet at home. All they will need is their smartphone and Amazon’s new app, called Amazon Go.
The first Amazon Go pilot store is already open to the company’s employees in Seattle and it will open to the public in January.
Neil Stern, an analyst with retail consultancy McMillan Doolittle, heralds the new technology as a “game changer for the retail industry” which is searching for ways to cut labor costs while trying to compete with online merchants.
It could “drastically change not just food retailing, but every segment of retail,” Stern wrote in a blog. “One can envision a future of Amazon brick-and-mortar outposts: book stores, beauty stores, drive-thru grocery stores and convenience locations all using this technology.”
If anyone doubts the popularity of the idea, they should note that the above video was released by Amazon Dec. 5 and within three days it logged 6 million views on YouTube. It’s spreading like wildfire.
But some are saying “not so fast.” This new convenience offered to shoppers and the labor savings of retailers will come at a steep cost to personal privacy.
They fear the emergence of a society that is not only cashless but controlled by machines and requiring very little human interaction. The data collected will inevitably be shared across platforms. In short, we could be looking at the emergence of a long-awaited technocratic utopia with frightening unforeseen side effects. Futurists like George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and H.G. Wells saw it coming decades ago but the technology now exists to usher it in, says Patrick Wood, an economist and privacy advocate who also follows the global technocracy movement.
“In the longer term if the experiment works out and is adopted widely it could radically transform the nature of work in the retail industry, much like the driverless car and truck technology threaten to upend transportation,” observes Wood, who edits the blog Technocracy News and Trends.