Amazon used remote workers from India to power its ‘Just Walk Out’ AI technology at stores

Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’ technology, which promised a seamless shopping experience by eliminating the need for checkout lines, was initially hailed as a groundbreaking innovation leveraging advanced AI and sensor technology. However, a recent report by The Information has revealed that behind the scenes, the system heavily relied on manual labor, particularly from low-paid workers in India, rather than purely on AI.

The Human Element: Outsourcing to Indian Workers

Introduced in 2018, the ‘Just Walk Out’ system allowed customers to enter Amazon Fresh stores, pick up items they wanted to purchase, and leave without the need to check out. The technology was purported to track customers’ selections using a network of cameras and sensors throughout the store. However, instead of solely relying on this advanced technology, Amazon reportedly employed over 1,000 workers in India to manually track customers’ purchases.

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These outsourced workers were tasked with monitoring customers’ movements in the stores remotely and compiling data on their selected items. This practice raised concerns about job undercutting and exploitation of low-paid labor in India, as the company chose to outsource these tasks rather than investing in local employment opportunities.

Furthermore, the report highlighted significant inefficiencies in the process, with outsourced workers taking hours to compile the data needed to generate receipts for customers. As a result, Amazon has decided to phase out the ‘Just Walk Out’ technology from its Amazon Fresh stores, citing its growing time-consuming nature.

In its place, Amazon plans to introduce smart carts that will allow customers to bypass traditional checkout lines while also providing real-time visibility into their spending. According to Amazon spokesperson Carly Golden, this shift aims to address customer feedback, offering the convenience of skipping checkout lines while ensuring transparency regarding receipts and savings.

While Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’ technology may have promised a futuristic shopping experience, its reliance on manual labor underscores the challenges and limitations of fully automated solutions. As the retail landscape continues to evolve, striking a balance between technological innovation and ethical labor practices remains a pressing concern for industry leaders like Amazon.

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