From till-less supermarkets to voice assistants befriending the elderly, here are the things that sparked the biggest conversations at Gloo HQ over the past week.

Starter for ten

Alexa is usually pretty knowledgeablebut occasionally she gets stumped by a question and can only offer an “I don’t know that one”. So how do we find out the answers to these questions? Amazon has a solution: it’sgoing to allow the general public to provide the answers.

A new program, Alexa Answers, will list all questions that Alexa doesn’t currently have a pre-recorded answer to. If you think you know the answer, you can submit your response. The answers will then be up-voted and the best ones eventually added to the assistantwith the caveat “according to an Amazon customer.” It’s a novel way of competing with Google Home, which has access to billions of web pages of information. But if you’ve ever spent any time on the internet, you’ll know that the general public can’t always be trusted to give a straight answer. Could this be start of the era of alternative facts? We might have to start taking Alexa’s responses with an extra pinch of salt.

These are not the stores you’re looking for

Taking a leaf out of Amazon’s book, one Sainsbury’s store trialled a new payment experience for customers and removed all its tills. The idea was a step on from self-scan shopping, which has been working for years. Customers download an app and use their mobile to scan each item and pack it as they go. Then rather than visiting a till at the end, they simply pay on the app and walk straight out the door.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go to plan. Many of us in the Gloo office gave the app a go in our local stores and weren’t hugely impressed. Lack of signal was a big problem that meant baskets weren’t refreshed and many items had to be scanned more than once. It seems others app users were similarly unimpressed and the experimental till-less Sainsbury’s has now had all its tills reinstalled. Not only that, many customers just aren’t ready to adopt this technology. Customers want to pop in to a store and quickly purchase their bread and milkthey don’t want to have download an app. In this experiment, the app designed to eliminate queues actually led to even longer ones at the customer service desk.

It was a bold idea from Sainsbury’s to encourage shoppers back into their stores, but the experience needs to be perfect to compete with the ease of online. Retailers that can make it as frictionless as possible are likely to see the biggest success.

UK’s attitudes to facial recognition

A new survey has been released from the Ada Lovelace Institute, looking for the first time at the UK public’s opinion on facial recognition. Where there is a tangible benefit, and increase to public safety, people are onboard with the use of this technology. Almost half (49%) of people support the use of the technology in day-to-day policing. But only if appropriate safeguards are in place.

The need for adequate restrictions was a recurring theme throughout this study, with the majority (55%) of people wanting governments to impose restrictions on police use of facial technology, and nearly half (46%) wanting the right to opt out of the use of it completely.

It’s unlikely that this study will have any bearing on the country’s adoption of the technology, but it does raise some interesting questions about the ethics of facial recognition. If the general public is against it, should it be put to a vote before being rolled out completely? San Francisco already successfully banned the technology; could the UK be next?

Alexa: Friend to the elderly

When thinking about technology users, people tend to picture the younger generation. But that’s a very stereotypical view. In practice, the older generation is keeping upand one of their most popular items is Alexa.

In the US, 4,600 people turn 65 every day, so it’s a huge market that tech companies would be crazy not to try and connect with. But what is it about Alexa that this audience can’t get enough of? For many, it’s simply companionshipa voice to natter with and pass the time of day. For others, it’s an assistant that reminds them to take their tablets or to eat their meals. Many of us take for granted smart assistants like Alexa or Siri, using them to find out about the weather, or to play our favourite song; but for the elderly they can be a lifeline that helps them retain some independence.

Posted by John on 16 September 2019