Friday Five: auditing algorithims and smart shopping

Each week Zone’s Letty Key handpicks and shares the five best stories on new trends and technologies…

1. Zara makes a smart move

Just weeks after it embraced AR in its window displays, Zara has once again proved itself to be at the forefront of retail technology with the opening of its flagship store in Westfield Stratford City in London. From iPads to order out-of-stock items online and interactive mirrors to cashless self-checkouts, this shop is seriously smart.

It also comes with a dedicated ecommerce zone where customers can place orders or collect online purchases, all sorted by a robotic arm. It’s a cool step and shows that physical shops are far from dead – they’re just becoming experience hubs. I’m interested to see what digital stores can contribute to this experience, so that the ‘store of the future’ is more than the sum of its online and offline parts.

2. Show but don’t tell

The intimidatingly clever folk at Nvidia have developed a robot that is able to learn simple tasks just from observing a human perform the action. Not only that, but the robot is also able to explain what it thinks it is copying, giving us an insight into its logic and making it a hell of a lot easier to correct what it is doing.

While it would’ve been less complex to simply programme the robot with a set of rules and parameters, the overarching goal of this project is to create a machine able to learn from observation, which will ultimately save time and effort by eliminating the need to upload new training data when changing the robot’s function.

3. Eliminating inaccurate algorithms

Just like an organic sticker on a bunch of bananas or a fair trade label on a tin of coffee beans, algorithms are being lined up to receive their very own badge of authentication. The idea is the brainchild of Cathy O’Neil, who has created an audit process that reviews algorithms for accuracy, bias and fairness.

This is a big topic right now as algorithms play an increasingly important role in many aspects of our public and private lives, from hiring and insurance to credit lending, crime and justice. Acting as a guiding light to show customers which companies are operating honourably, O’Neil has even open-sourced her judgement criteria to show that the entire process is transparent and above board.

4. A burger by the people, for the people

It’s still too early to say whether Burger King has won at Instagram, but its latest campaign has given the fast food chain a whopping good chance (sorry, couldn’t resist). Using the Stories and polls features, BK offered Spanish users the chance to customise each ingredient of their Whopper, which they could then collect in-store.

The most popular results across the board were collated to produce the InstaWhopper, which was available to everyone. This isn’t the first time BK has produced innovative marketing and engagement levels on its latest offering were through the roof. I suppose that’s what you get when you mix the two extremes of hyper-personalisation with a crowdsourced super product. Well played.

5. Coffee chain king of mobile payments

With an estimated 23.4 million people opting to pay for their Starbucks order through the chain’s dedicated app this year, the coffee chain has claimed the crown in the mobile payment stakes, blowing the likes of Apple Pay (22 million) and Google Pay (11.1 million) out of the water.

The results of eMarketer’s report are pretty astonishing. How is it that a single merchant service completely siloed to one organisation as the single provider and single acceptor has managed to stave off competition from some of tech’s biggest names? At the risk of some terrible wordplay, it seems like Apple et al might need to wake up and smell the coffee (sorry, again).

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