No time to shop? No problem

Published 10:27 am Thursday, December 8, 2016

Imagine a world where you didn’t have to wait in checkout lines at the grocery store. Or any store, for that matter. Just go inside, grab what you want, and leave. It’s not stealing and your credit card will be charged as you leave – but you don’t have to wait.

Such a possibility once seemed like a sci-fi fantasy from the future, but the technology is here and it is coming fast to a store near you.

Amazon launched the beta version of one such store earlier this week, which is currently accessible only to Amazon employees in Seattle, Washington, but the company has announced its plans to go public in 2017. All you need is an Amazon account with a credit card on file and a smartphone with Amazon’s free Amazon Go app.

The app is used to “scan yourself” in when you enter the store, and then sensors and computers all throughout the store can tell the items you pick up off of its shelves and place in your cart. After you leave, the app tallies up your purchases, charges your card, and sends you a receipt.

Pretty neat, right? I certainly think so. At this time of year, almost everyone is concerned with shopping and the time it requires. Standing in long lines to checkout from a store may soon be a thing of the past, if the “deep learning” technology Amazon used to create this process is implemented into the general populace. For that matter, many large tech companies are also beginning to roll out self-driving cars using the same type of technology, making those types of vehicles a thing of near certainty.

Amazon isn’t the only one looking into deep learning technology – tech giants Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Baidu all have their proverbial fingers in the pot with big projects in the making.

What is deep learning, exactly? It’s a form of artificial intelligence, or A.I., as it has been referred to in both pop culture history as well as scientific journals. Many researchers today in the tech world refer to A.I. as the new electricity, one that will soon revolutionize the way we live our lives.

Speech and facial recognition are two other key areas some of these companies have been fine-tuning. In the last 18 months alone, Baidu reported its users tripling their use of its speech recognition software – a huge development for most of its Chinese users who speak the hard-to-type Mandarin dialect.

It isn’t inconceivable then that one day we might be able to “call” (out loud) a vehicle, tell it to drive us to a nearby store, walk into that store and simply speak what we want. We might have gotten (or helped Santa find) our kids a puppy for Christmas, for instance, and need help finding a good brand of dog food. Well, it seems there’s to be an app for that. Greet, grab and go.

Jennipher Dickens is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or call (252) 332-7206.