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When I think of robots, I think of sci-fi movies. I think of a futuristic world in which shiny, silver robots are assisting an elderly woman across a busy city street. But maybe that’s just me. (It’s definitely just me.)
IBM and Macy’s are experimenting with artificial intelligence by developing an in-store shopping assistant robot. What these robots do is answer questions in natural language about specific products. You could stroll into Macy’s and ask the robot, “Where can I find Dolce Gabbana perfume” and the bot will answer you. Simple, I know. The robots focus on answering frequently asked questions, providing store navigation, and connecting customers to the unique offerings and services at each location.
By interacting with Macy’s On Call, Watson’s artificial intelligence assures that the bot gets smarter about the needs and frequently asked questions at each location. Watson will be delivered by means of a location-based software provided by Satisfi. (The two companies announced a pilot program for an in-store shopping assistant powered by Watson). And although in my imagination robots only exist in the future, these robots are very much tools of the present. The Macy’s On Call pilot program will take place in 10 department stores around the country. (VentureBeat, Kharii Johnson, July 20, 2016)
I’m not going to lie. When I first read about these in-store shopping assistant robots, I was skeptical. It does sound rather gimmicky, does it not? However, there truly are many valid advantages to these bots. They are able to consistently provide helpful, objective information to customers in a constant tone, making a consumer’s experience from store to store more consistent. And still, for all of the pros there are undoubtedly some major cons. Are shopping assistants going to lose their job to a robot? And furthermore, could artificial intelligence negatively affect the customer’s experience? When I’m in the market for a new dress, for example, a robot could direct me to my desired section of the store and even help me find a certain brand or style. However, when I put the dress on and am looking in the mirror, yearning for validation that this is indeed the right dress for the occasion, I find it hard to believe a robot would have the ability to help me decide whether or not to buy the dress. Personally, I’d want a real human being who can tell me things like “It fits in the waist but is too big in the arms.” I want human honesty.
And yet, the possibilities of artificial intelligence are, at the end of the day, endless. Who’s to say that a robot in the near future wouldn’t be able to comment on garment fit or style?
Here is the bottom line: artificial intelligence is making its way into the consumer experience. We cannot prevent this from happening as it’s the next logical step in the evolution of both technology as well as marketing. So we must ask ourselves this: how do we want to use artificial intelligence? And how much brain can and should we give to our computers? And finally, are we willing to privilege artificial intelligence over human honesty?