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Adobe tests an AI recommendation tool for headlines and images

Team members at Adobe have built a new way to use artificial intelligence to automatically personalize a blog for different visitors.

This tool was built as part of the Adobe Sneaks program, where employees can create demos to show off new ideas, which are then showcased (virtually, this year) at the Adobe Summit. While the Sneaks start out as demos, Adobe Experience Cloud Senior Director Steve Hammond told me that 60% of Sneaks make it into a live product.

Hyman Chung, a senior product manager for Adobe Experience Cloud, said that this Sneak was designed for content creators and content marketers who are probably seeing more traffic during the coronavirus pandemic (Adobe says that in April, its own blog saw a 30% month-over-month increase), and who may be looking for ways to increase reader engagement while doing less work.

So in the demo, the Experience Cloud can go beyond simple A/B testing and personalization, leveraging the company’s AI technology Adobe Sensei to suggest different headlines, images (which can come from a publisher’s media library or Adobe Stock) and preview blurbs for different audiences.

Image Credits: Adobe

For example, Chung showed me a mocked-up blog for a tourism company, where a single post about traveling to Australia could be presented differently to thrill-seekers, frugal travelers, partygoers and others. Human writers and editors can still edit the previews for each audience segment, and they can also consult a Snippet Quality Score to see the details behind Sensei’s recommendation.

Hammond said the demo illustrates Adobe’s general approach to AI, which is more about applying automation to specific use cases rather than trying to build a broad platform. He also noted that the AI isn’t changing the content itself — just the way the content is promoted on the main site.

“This is leveraging the creativity you’ve got and matching it with content,” he said. “You can streamline and adapt the content to different audiences without changing the content itself.”

From a privacy perspective, Hammond noted that these audience personas are usually based on information that visitors have opted to share with a brand or website.

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Disney Research neural face swapping technique can provide photorealistic, high resolution video

A new paper published by Disney Research in partnership with ETH Zurich describes a fully automated, neural network-based method for swapping faces in photos and videos – the first such method that results in high-resolution, megapixel resolution final results according to the researchers. That could make it suited for use in film and TV, where high resolution results are key to ensuring that the final product is good enough to reliably convince viewers as to their reality.

The researchers specifically intend this tech for use in replacing an existing actor’s performance with a substitute actor’s face, for instance when de-aging or increasing the age of someone, or potentially when portraying an actor who has passed away. They also suggest it could be used for replacing the faces of stunt doubles in cases where the conditions of a scene call for them to be used.

This new method is unique from other approaches in a number of ways, including that any face used in the set can be swapped with any recorded performance, making it possible to relatively easily re-image the actors on demand. The other is that it kindles contrast- and light conditions in a compositing step to ensure the actor looks like they were actually present in the same conditions as the scene.

You can check out the results for yourself in the video below (as the researchers point out, the effect is actually much better in moving video than in still images). There’s still a hint of ‘uncanny valley’ effect going on here, but the researchers also acknowledge that, calling this “a major step toward photo-realistic face swapping that can successfully bridge the uncanny valley” in their paper. Basically it’s a lot less nightmare fuel than other attempts I’ve seen, especially when you’ve seen the side-by-side comparisons with other techniques in the sample video. And, most notably, it works at much higher resolution, which is key for actual entertainment industry use.

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The examples presented are a super small sample, so it remains to be seen how broadly this can be applied. The subjects used appear to be primarily white, for instance. Also, there’s always the question of the ethical implication of any use of face-swapping technology, especially in video, since it could be used to fabricate credible video or photographic ‘evidence’ of something that didn’t actually happen.

Given, however, that the technology is now in development from multiple quarters, it’s essentially long past the time for debate about the ethics of its development and exploration. Instead, it’s welcome that organizations like Disney Research are following the academic path and sharing the results of their work, so that others concerned about its potential malicious use can determine ways to flag, identify and protect against any bad actors.

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Biased AI perpetuates racial injustice

The murder of George Floyd was shocking, but we know that his death was not unique. Too many Black lives have been stolen from their families and communities as a result of historical racism. There are deep and numerous threads woven into racial injustice that plague our country that have come to a head following the recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

Just as important as the process underway to admit to and understand the origin of racial discrimination will be our collective determination to forge a more equitable and inclusive path forward. As we commit to address this intolerable and untenable reality, our discussions must include the role of artificial intelligence (AI) . While racism has permeated our history, AI now plays a role in creating, exacerbating and hiding these disparities behind the facade of a seemingly neutral, scientific machine. In reality, AI is a mirror that reflects and magnifies the bias in our society.

I had the privilege of working with Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates to introduce implicit bias training to federal law enforcement at the Department of Justice, which I found to be as educational for those working on the curriculum as it was to those participating. Implicit bias is a fact of humanity that both facilitates (e.g., knowing it’s safe to cross the street) and impedes (e.g., false initial impressions based on race or gender) our activities. This phenomenon is now playing out at scale with AI.

As we have learned, law enforcement activities such as predictive policing have too often targeted communities of color, resulting in a disproportionate number of arrests of persons of color. These arrests are then logged into the system and become data points, which are aggregated into larger data sets and, in recent years, have been used to create AI systems. This process creates a feedback loop where predictive policing algorithms lead law enforcement to patrol and thus observe crime only in neighborhoods they patrol, influencing the data and thus future recommendations. Likewise, arrests made during the current protests will result in data points in future data sets that will be used to build AI systems.

This feedback loop of bias within AI plays out throughout the criminal justice system and our society at large, such as determining how long to sentence a defendant, whether to approve an application for a home loan or whether to schedule an interview with a job candidate. In short, many AI programs are built on and propagate bias in decisions that will determine an individual and their family’s financial security and opportunities, or lack thereof — often without the user even knowing their role in perpetuating bias.

This dangerous and unjust loop did not create all of the racial disparities under protest, but it reinforced and normalized them under the protected cover of a black box.

This is all happening against the backdrop of a historic pandemic, which is disproportionately impacting persons of color. Not only have communities of color been most at risk to contract COVID-19, they have been most likely to lose jobs and economic security at a time when unemployment rates have skyrocketed. Biased AI is further compounding the discrimination in this realm as well.

This issue has solutions: diversity of ideas and experience in the creation of AI. However, despite years of promises to increase diversity — particularly in gender and race, from those in tech who seem able to remedy other intractable issues (from putting computers in our pockets and connecting with machines outside the earth to directing our movements over GPS) — recently released reports show that at Google and Microsoft, the share of technical employees who are Black or Latinx rose by less than a percentage point since 2014. The share of Black technical workers at Apple has not changed from 6%, which is at least reported, as opposed to Amazon, which does not report tech workforce demographics.

In the meantime, ethics should be part of a computer science-related education and employment in the tech space. AI teams should be trained on anti-discrimination laws and implicit bias, emphasizing that negative impacts on protected classes and the real human impacts of getting this wrong. Companies need to do better in incorporating diverse perspectives into the creation of its AI, and they need the government to be a partner, establishing clear expectations and guardrails.

There have been bills to ensure oversight and accountability for biased data and the FTC recently issued thoughtful guidance holding companies responsible for understanding the data underlying AI, as well as its implications, and to provide consumers with transparent and explainable outcomes. And in light of the crucial role that federal support is playing and our accelerated use of AI, one of the most important solutions is to require assurance of legal compliance with existing laws from the recipients of federal relief funding employing AI technologies for critical uses. Such an effort was started recently by several members of Congress to safeguard protected persons and classes — and should be enacted.

We all must do our part to end the cycles of bias and discrimination. We owe it to those whose lives have been taken or altered due to racism to look within ourselves, our communities and our organizations to ensure change. As we increasingly rely on AI, we must be vigilant to ensure these programs are helping to solve problems of racial injustice, rather than perpetuate and magnify them.

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Shielding Frontline Health Workers with AI

Illustration: © IoT For All

We are living through an unprecedented crisis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers have emerged as frontline heroes, working overtime to protect our communities from the spread of novel coronavirus. But they aren’t immune to the anxious, uncertain atmosphere the pandemic has fostered nor, indeed, the coronavirus itself.

We need to protect the first responders and hospital staff who put their wellbeing on the line to support their communities during a crisis. To my mind, that means using every tool at our disposal to the fullest — with AI chief among those at hand.

Creative Solution

There’s little doubt that the current situation demands a creative solution. The United States has become the center of the global pandemic; as of April 16th, the US confirmed 644,188 cases and endured 28,579 deaths. Despite efforts to flatten the curve by ordering regional shut-downs and stay-at-home orders, hospitals across the county have been all but overwhelmed by incoming cases. The impact on provider morale has, according to reporting from NPR, been similarly problematic.

“Nearly a month into the declared pandemic, some health care workers say they’re exhausted and burning out from the stress of treating a stream of critically ill patients in an increasingly overstretched health care system,” NPR reporters Will Stone and Leila Fadel recently wrote. “Many are questioning how long they can risk their own health […] In many hospitals, the pandemic has transformed emergency rooms and upended protocols and precautions that workers previously took for granted.”

Hospitals are doing all they can to keep their caregivers safe and protected, but their resources are stretched far too thin. According to reports, some hospitals in high-infection areas like New York City can only afford to give healthcare workers one N95 mask every five days. Used masks are collected, disinfected, and returned on a cycle between uses. But some frontline workers worry that, given the highly contagious nature of the disease, they may not be adequately protected.

“It can be disheartening to have that feeling of uncertainty that you are not going to be protected,” Sophia Rago, an ER nurse based in St. Louis, told reporters for NPR.

We need to shield our frontline workers as much as possible. The obvious solution would be to increase stores of personal protective equipment (PPE) and N95 masks; however, given that we face a national shortfall and harsh state-to-state bidding wars over the gear, that fix seems unlikely. What we can do to at least lessen the risk of patient-to-provider transmission is to invest in AI-powered solutions that can automate some healthcare protocols and limit the need for close contact.

“Traditional processes — those that rely on people to function in the critical path of signal processing — are constrained by the rate at which we can train, organize, and deploy human labor. Moreover, traditional processes deliver decreasing returns as they scale,” a team of digital health researchers recently wrote in an article for the Harvard Business Review.

“Digital systems can be scaled up without such constraints, at virtually infinite rates. The only theoretical bottlenecks are computing power and storage capacity — and we have plenty of both. Digital systems can keep pace with exponential growth.”

These AI-powered, digitally-facilitated solutions generally fall into two broad categories: disease containment and patient management.

Assessing AI’s Ability to Limit Disease Transmission

When it comes to limiting disease spread, the aim is to use AI tools to allocate human resources better while still protecting patients and staff. Take the screening system that was recently deployed at Tampa General Hospital in Florida, for example. This AI framework was designed by the autonomous care startup Care.ai and intended to facilitate early identification and interception of infected people before they come into contact with others. According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, the Care.ai tool taps into entryway cameras and conducts a facial thermal scan. If the system flags any feverish symptoms such as sweat or discoloration, it can notify healthcare staff and prompt immediate intervention.

Other technology companies––Microsoft, for one––have rolled out similar remote diagnostic and alert tools in facilities across the globe. Their unique capabilities vary, but their purposes are the same: to prevent the spread of infection and provide support to overworked personnel.

As representatives for Microsoft shared in a recent press release, “[AI technology] not only improves the efficiency of epidemic prevention, but it also reduces the work burden of frontline personnel so that limited human resources can be used more effectively.”

In these resource-strapped time, the aid is undoubtedly needed.

AI’s Applications for Diagnostics and Patient Management

Fighting a pandemic is a task that requires speed. Now more than ever, providers must be able to accurately and quickly identify infected patients so that they can trace and hopefully contain the viral spread. But doing so isn’t an easy order.

To borrow a quote from Forbes contributor Wendy Singer, “Analyzing test results nowadays requires skilled technicians and a lot of precious time, as much as a few days. But in our current reality, healthcare systems need to analyze thousands of results instantly, and to expose as few lab workers as possible to the virus.”

We don’t have that kind of time––and we can’t put our lab workers at undue risk. Thankfully, cutting-edge AI technologies may provide a solution. With AI, hospitals can automate some steps of the testing process, cutting down on the time and effort needed to process test results. These capabilities aren’t just hypothetical; in the weeks since the start of the pandemic, the health tech startup Diagnostics.ai has provided laboratories in the US and UK with a diagnostic tool that streamlines the testing process by automating DNA analysis.

However, the applications of AI diagnostics aren’t limited to testing alone. Some have also used artificial intelligence to support population management in overstretched hospitals. One Israeli medical-device developer, EarlySense, recently developed an AI-powered sensor that can identify which patients will most likely face complications like sepsis and respiratory failure within six to eight hours. This can give a hospital the information it needs to best allocate limited resources and staff attention.

No AI innovation — no matter how brilliant or helpful — will fix our resources shortfall. There is no question that healthcare providers need more PPE and support, or that they need it immediately. However, the benefits that AI provides to screen and patient management efforts are evident. It seems reasonable that we at least consider the weight the deployment of such tools could remove from our exhausted front-liners’ shoulders.

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Innovating during COVID-19: A Story of Collaboration

Connected World’s Peggy Smedley recently sat down for a webcast with Eddy Van Steyvoort, VP, business line automotive and on-road, IGW/VCST, which is a part of BMT Group, Kevin Wrenn, EVP, products, PTC, and Filip Bossuyt, CEO, Ad Ultima, for a discussion about innovating in a time of COVID-19, a story of collaboration.

Van Steyvoort shares the smart factory project, which started in 2017, in silos and realized quickly that it needed to think in an end-to-end scenario. He says it recognizes it had to change its systems, the organization, and its way of thinking to a more end-to-end focus to improve efficiency, reliability, quality, and the way it supports customers. The question became how does it change; and which tools to use? It decided to go to PTC and Ad Ultima to help support it.

“PTC’s PLM Software was known already in the BMT Group and that was a very, very, very strong asset and also a very strong signal from the beginning that we had already the relation, which was already there,” Van Steyvoort says. “We could build on that relation. That was the reason why we established a total plan as partners, and not let’s say as a customer supplier, but as partners,” he adds.

Then the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic hit. Van Steyvoort opines the automotive industry has been shook by coronavirus, but it didn’t want to stop the strong drive on the project and decided not to change the long-term strategy.

He insists it now knows what AR (augmented reality) is and what it can bring during COVID-19, explaining that it can support people locally from a global perspective to show them how to do things. This is one of the lessons learned during this time—that it needs to invest even more in augmented reality tools.

Ad Ultima’s Bossuyt adds it is helping VCST to think end-to-end and to realize its digital transformation. “Becoming digital is a challenge today because you have to do it end-to-end. You cannot do it for only a part of your business.”

Adding to the conversation, PTC’s Wrenn says PTC can help with openness. “We are open on multiple dimensions. Our technology is open. It enables people to do digital transformation, as Eddy was talking about, connections all the way from engineering, all the way to the factory floor, and even out to their customers. Wwe are also open from a partnership standpoint. Ad Ultima is a really important partner of PTC’s and likewise of VCST. So we are used to working in these environments both from a technology standpoint and a partnership standpoint.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, PTC’s first response was to reach out to its customers and partners to make sure they could work from home. Wrenn says the technology is made to work from home and not have to be physically on site to be able to operate the technology. “It was much more important for us to figure out how our customers could create business continuity, and at the same time we were doing it for ourselves.”

In all of this, each individual learned something very important. Van Steyvoort says it is important to create a very strong sense of urgency from the very start and keep communicating this through the whole organization that it is a future-based strategy. “Instead of focusing on the change, focus on the alternative of doing nothing, because doing nothing that means you will lose the game.” Also, don’t be afraid to express the hopes and fears.

Ad Ultima’s Bossuyt notes the most important thing is the power of the network and working together with different partners where there is a lot of trust and all the stakeholders are aligned, which has created very good results. PTC’s Wrenn adds the new normal after COVID-19 is it will make people think about the kind of projects because digitalization is going to be a requirement in the new normal.

Going forward, the next steps for VCST is to link the CAD (computer-aided design) information to the PLM (product lifecycle management), that it goes through visualization in ThingWorx, and that the whole picture will be a completely integrated solution for the future. As Van Steyvoort says, “The sky is the limit. The technology is not the limit anymore.”

Want to tweet about this article? Use hashtags #IoT #sustainability #AI #5G #cloud #edge #digitaltransformation #machinelearning #futureofwork #PLM #CAD #AR

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Smart Home: On the Rise?

Amid the pandemic, many are wondering if the use of technology is going to continue to rise. In many instances, the answer is yes. Such is the case with smart homes.

A new report points to the importance of incorporating smart-home technology. LexisNexis Risk Solutions released an insurance claims study revealing that in-line water shutoff systems correlate with a decrease in water claims events by 96%.

The study measured the changes in the number and severity of water-related home insurance claims with the Flo by Moen Smart Water Shutoff device against an uninstalled control group of homes in the same geolocation one year before and after installation.

Here is what it found: Prior to installation, 2,306 Flow homes had an average claims severity far greater than the control group two years prior to the installation of the device. The study also found a corresponding 72% decrease in claims severity one year after installation of the device, indicating that smart water shutoff systems are working.

The key takeaway here is that water leak mitigation and the time and money saved could help drive adoption of these smart home devices, ultimately reducing loss costs, improving the customer experience, and more.

This is in line with other reports that the smart homes market, in general, is on the rise. Mordor Intelligence says the market was valued at $64.6 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $246.42 billion by 2025, a forecasted 25% growth rate, even amid a pandemic. The research shows there is a greater need for security and wireless controls. Further advancements in the IoT (Internet of Things) have resulted in price drops of sensors and processors, which are expected to fuel automation in the home.

While there is much to consider when it comes to smart-home technologies, research points to a continued rise in the years to come.

Want to tweet about this article? Use hashtags #IoT #sustainability #AI #5G #cloud #edge #futureofwork #infrastructure 

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AI’s Man Behind the Curtain

As the world grows increasingly connected, growing concern regarding the influence of artificial intelligence (AI) has been bubbling to the surface, affecting perceptions by industries big and small along with the general populace. Spurred on by sensationalized media predictions of AI taking over human decision-making and silver-screen tales of robot revolutions, there is a fear of allowing AI or its cousin, the Internet of Things (IoT), into our lives. Here is AI’s man behind the curtain.

One of the biggest sticking points is the popular – yet mistaken – notion that AI will cost people their jobs. In truth, the situation is just the opposite. The real future of AI isn’t one where people are replaced, but where man and machine work in tandem to cover one another’s weaknesses. AI isn’t a job thief – it’s a job creator.

How do we know? Simple – it’s all happened many times before. Industrial hype cycles have traced very similar lines in the past, from industrialization to the internet. In all cases, many people were certain these new technologies would put people out of work. Of course, this never came to pass, and technology always ended up creating a net gain in job creation.

Learning from History

Consider the automated teller machine or ATM. The fear lied in the name — people were worried the introduction of these devices would render human tellers obsolete.  However, the reality turned out to be the exact opposite. The streamlined service of these ATMs allowed banks to open more branches than ever before, which means – you guessed it – far more tellers were employed than before the introduction of ATMs.

John Hawksworth, the chief economist at PwC, said in a 2018 analysis that AI and robots, much like the inventions of the steam engine and computers before them, will displace jobs yet simultaneously generate large productivity gains. This spike in productivity brings prices down, raises real income, and thus creates demand for more workers. The firm predicts that in a post-AI world, some sectors will see job creation soar by as much as 20 percent.

To take this analysis further, the World Economic Forum predicted in a 2018 study that the complete integration of artificial intelligence would displace 75 million jobs – but, critically, would also result in the creation of 133 million new jobs. The net gain is clear just as it has been with many other technological innovations throughout history.

Also, it should be noted that some business problems will always necessitate the human touch, as even the most advanced AI or the most well-connected IoT device will come up short.

People and Machines in Tandem

The “conversational guidance” software that’s now being rolled out to call centers around the U.S.  is a good example of what AI’s future could look like. These programs use speech recognition AI to measure cues from both sides of a phone call, advising representatives on how to maximize customer satisfaction.

Speech recognition accomplishes this feat by indicating if the rep is talking too slow or fast, is taking too coarse of a tone, sounds tired or bored, and so on. The automatic speech recognition can also pick up on whether a customer is getting frustrated and guide the rep to empathize. Some firms incorporating the technology have already reported an increase in customer satisfaction rates as high as 13 percent.

AI can be seen playing a similar supportive role in areas such as design – from industrial 3D products to graphics and website user experience. Utilizing big data and speedy calculations, AI can advise on subtle design elements that will make customers more likely to engage with a product, platform, or service. For example, it may determine that a web designer would be better served to place a button on the top right of a page, rather than the bottom left, since doing so leads to higher engagement and conversion rates.

It’s not all hard data and calculations though – there’s plenty of room for fun and creativity in this new space, too. Few likely know this better than the founders of “AI Cocktails,” a creative AI toolkit that uses neural networks to create inspirational new drinks born of AI and human collaboration.

Using hundreds of traditional cocktail recipes as its base knowledge, the AI outputs a list of wild combinations that – with a little tweaking from a human bartender – can surprise and delight the taste buds. Who would have guessed that rum, wine, and vanilla ice cream would make such a scrumptious combo?

As we’re seeing now, something truly special emerges when human ingenuity combines with statistical insights that AI can provide us. If we continue to engage and integrate, a slew of longstanding societal challenges – energy waste, traffic, disease, and much more – could be tackled by this newly formed dynamic duo of man and machine.

The notion that technology is a looming threat to labor fails to consider its role as a job creator. Already, businesses are beginning to incorporate AI and IoT to make their services and products more innovative, efficient, profitable, and safe.

The future of AI is in fact already here, and those who have moved past their misconceptions and misgivings to embrace will reap massive benefits.

Image credit: Pexels

Barry Po

A veteran of both startups and enterprise business, Barry has led global product teams operating in over 80 countries and has held leadership roles at some of the world’s most valuable brands. Prior to Universal mCloud, he was head of product, marketing, and business development at NGRAIN, where he played a key role in taking the business to a successful exit. Barry graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Ph.D. in Computer Science in 2005.
His accomplishments have been recognized through numerous awards. He held an NSERC Industrial R&D Fellowship, is a two-time winner of the annual Communications Award from the B.C. Advanced Systems Institute (now the B.C. Innovation Council), and was a nominee for the Governor-General’s Gold Medal. In the press, he has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Inc Magazine, and Singularity Hub.
Barry is active in the Vancouver high-tech community as a guest speaker, mentors budding entrepreneurs and innovators, and serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board in the Faculty of Communications, Art, and Technology at Simon Fraser University.

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AI-Driven Video Analytics for the Retail Industry

Illustration: © IoT For All

Artificial intelligence (AI) is directly correlated with Data Science, which is aimed at extracting business value from an array of information. This value can consist of expanding the capabilities of forecasting, knowledge of regularities, informed decision-making, cost reduction, etc. In other words, artificial intelligence operates with massive arrays of information, analyzes incoming data, and develops adaptive solutions based on them. 

In the modern world, the retail industry is rapidly increasing the application of artificial intelligence in all possible work processes. Thus, leveraging opportunities by applying analytics can undoubtedly improve a wide range of operations in the grocery industry. With AI, the largest supermarket chains are achieving very ambitious aims: 

  • improving and expanding customer service capabilities,
  • automating supply chain planning and orders delivery,
  • reducing product waste,
  • sharpening the management of out-of-stock and over-stock (grocery stock out), and
  • enhancing demand forecasting. 

The AI solution ecosystem is extensive and able to satisfy most needs of all grocery retailers (from large chains to the smallest businesses). As of now – during the quarantine, online grocery analytics has become a real “savior” in terms of managing stock-out conditions. With intelligent data-driven approaches, supermarkets can process a large amount of information, accurately forecast consumer demand and supply inventory, and generate the most accurate pricing and purchasing recommendations. As a result, grocery retailers will not only stay afloat, but will continue to generate profits even throughout the most critical situations, like during the coronavirus pandemic. With that being said, it is evident that all companies now require an immediate action plan in response to COVID-19. 

A New Level of Video Surveillance

As a rule, most grocery stores have a continuous video surveillance system. Previously, such systems were installed only for security purposes: controlling the safety of products and preventing theft. But now, artificial intelligence video analysis is able to monitor the behavior of customers from the moment they enter the store until payment. How does it work, and why do stores need it?

Large grocery chains like Amazon and Walmart use high-tech cameras that utilize automatic object identification (RFID). Typically, such a system is used in unmanned electric vehicles to monitor passenger behavior and process visual information via a computer. But the primary goal of video grocery store analytics is to determine which items are in high demand, which products buyers most often return to the shelves, etc. Moreover, cameras recognize faces, determine heights, weights, ages, and other physical characteristics of customers. Subsequently, the AI (based on all the obtained data) identifies the most popular products from specific consumer groups and offers options for changing the pricing policy. A computer automates all these processes without human intervention. 

Preventing Grocery Stock-out and Shrinkage

Artificial intelligence in the retail industry is capable of solving problems that people cannot cope with. Experts state that a person physically cannot view all the video surveillance. There is not enough time for this, and unfortunately, human vision is not perfect. But this is no longer necessary! Video analytics for grocery stores perfectly copes with such tasks. For example, connecting cameras to the store’s automated warehouse system and equipping shelves with sensors can uncover gaps in inventory records and stimulate investigations. Grocery store data analytics can also monitor stocks and provide signals about replenishment needs. Facial recognition technology as described above is capable of comparing the faces of people with criminals (or wanted individuals) and warn security.

Advancing Traffic Flows and Store Layout

Data collected about customer behavior helps supermarket managers optimize store layout. Moreover, the computer program can design the most “optimal” layout and test it, generating an overall better customer experience and an increase in the store’s monthly profit figure. 

Data can be collected about the number of people that enter a store and the amount of time they spend shopping. Based on this data, artificial intelligence can predict crowd sizes and the length of time people wait in line. It will help improve customer service and reduce staff costs during “calm” hours. In other words, AI is able to draw optimal store management plans at various hours of the day with maximum benefit for the business. For example:

  • develop traffic flows
  • optimize display placement and floor planning
  • improve strategic staff distribution
  • draw correlations within the dwell time and purchasing
  • predict products for individual shopping groups

Enhancing Customer Experience

Every business should know as much as possible about its audience to offer the best possible service. AI in grocery stores using video intelligence software gives detailed demographic data with a detailed analysis of shopping habits. This information provides unlimited opportunities for stores to increase profits. By knowing their customers, store managers can maximize the client shopping experience, creating favorable conditions (made specifically for customers’ preferences). Furthermore, AI for grocery stores can help produce the most accurate demand forecasting models of the given target market. 

In addition to working with the target audience, managers can transfer information to the marketing department with the data obtained from video analytics. By exploring other audiences, marketers can develop strategies to attract new customers by creating relevant advertising, promotions, and sales. Additionally, stores can create separate display cases (vegan products or gluten-free) for small shopping groups, satisfying their needs. 

Among all existing technologies of artificial intelligence for grocery stores, video content analytics provides maximum support in almost all activities: merchandising, marketing, advertising, and layout strategies. By optimizing these processes, stores not only save and reduce losses, but also have the opportunity to expand their business by increasing profits. The main goal is not only to satisfy customers, but to strengthen customer retention rate.

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Looking back on an unprecedented quarter: customers embrace technology to advance industry innovation, respond to COVID-19 and plan for the future

It is predicted that by 2030, there will be a $4 trillion opportunity focused on new mobility services, as the automotive and transportation sectors converge.

This year has been unlike any other. As we welcomed the new decade, we witnessed industry-leading innovations by our customers and partners at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and National Retail Federation (NRF) conferences in January. We announced ambitious new sustainability initiatives and how we plan to help our customers reduce their carbon footprint. Then COVID-19 changed everything, disrupting business as usual and forcing organizations across industries to navigate a new landscape. As we work through the effects of the pandemic together, it is incredible to see how technology is enabling our customers to be agile and maintain business continuity. We are also seeing them adapt and scale to sustain critical products and services — all while preparing for a post-pandemic comeback and the new normal.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivers the opening keynote at NRF 2020, sharing his thoughts on the future of retail and how technology can help the industry transform.

Groundbreaking innovation across industries

The first quarter of calendar year 2020 began with a strong focus on what is next in automotive and our participation at CES, a global technology event. The industry is transforming at an incredible speed, quickly shaping the future of mobility and the automotive experience by using cloud, edge, IoT and AI services. Faurecia, a leading automotive technology company is using the Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform, Teams and Project xCloud to help people stay connected, productive and entertained while in the car. LG Electronics is working to build its automotive infotainment systems with our Azure cloud and AI services, and ZF is transforming into a software-driven mobility provider using Microsoft’s cloud services and developer tools.

At NRF, the world’s largest retail conference, Satya Nadella delivered the opening keynote, sharing ways we are working with retailers to help them better understand their customers, empower employees with digital tools, create a more intelligent supply chain through co-innovation and ultimately reimagine their businesses. During the event, Walgreens Boots Alliance announced it is piloting an immersive mixed reality training program for its employees using HoloLens 2. IKEA shared how it is deploying Microsoft Teams to more than 70,000 workers (including first-line employees) to increase productivity, and H&M shared how Azure IoT is helping propel its continued work toward a more sustainable future for the fashion industry by offering smart garment recycling bins in select stores around the world. Canada Goose, one the world’s largest makers of luxury performance apparel, showed how the company is building on the principle of the endless aisle using Dynamics 365 Commerce software to offer its entire range of products to customers without any physical stock in the store, and Home Depot bet on Microsoft PromoteIQ to help maximize the nearly 170 million monthly visitors on its e-commerce site with the PromoteIQ end-to-end commerce marketing platform. Samsung announced a new smartphone with a push-to-talk button that will leverage the new Walkie Talkie feature available in Microsoft Teams, providing first-line workers like retail employees easier ways to communicate on the job.

In February, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Bosch Group and ZF Friedrichshafen signed up as steering committee members of the Open Manufacturing Platform — founded by Microsoft and BMW in 2019  — to help manufacturing companies accelerate innovation at scale through cross-industry collaboration, knowledge and data sharing.

The emergence of a pandemic

As the fight against COVID-19 continues, I am encouraged by how customers are using technology to respond.

On the frontlines, care teams are using technology to scale their triage process to address the overwhelming number of patients needing care and to ease volume in the system. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a COVID-19 assessment bot, powered by Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot service running on Azure, to help organizations screen patients for potential infection and care options. These bots use artificial intelligence to help pre-screen patients and provide guidance on care plans, reducing the burden on medical professionals. Swedish Health Services built a mobile app to help hospital staff and administrators monitor resources, protective gear and ventilator use. The app syncs with hospital dashboards powered by the Power Platform emergency response solution to help manage bed count and inventory of critical supplies while sharing the information across the region to help other health professionals prepare their facilities.

Telemedicine is also enabling healthcare providers to continue delivering treatment. For example, Microsoft Teams has allowed doctors at St. Luke’s University Health Network to safely perform more than 75,000 virtual visits with patients vulnerable to the virus, while minimizing direct exposure and preserving valuable resources like masks and gloves.

In education, we are working with schools around the world to enable a remote learning system that fosters a culture of learning outside the classroom — as schools, universities, students and parents adopt the tools necessary for distance-learning models. That includes making Teams available for free for students and educators. The University of Bologna moved 90% of courses for its 80,000 students online to Teams within three days. AI is also playing a critical role in keeping students engaged and learning. The University of Sydney built an AI-infused bot using Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services that responds to students’ questions about COVID-19, providing instant answers and access to additional resources. At Case Western Reserve University, medical students are using Microsoft HoloLens to continue immersive remote learning without falling behind in classwork. In a larger-scale effort to support educators, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is launching a global e-learning initiative to minimize educational disruptions and maintain social contact.  Microsoft has joined this coalition to contribute resources and technology expertise to ensure #LearningNeverStops.

In response to the COVID-19 National Emergency Declaration, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) directed the majority of its workforce to work remotely and created the Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) Environment to provide secure teleworking capabilities to millions of users across the entire department. Our continued work with the DoD will lead to the single largest tenant of Office 365 and Microsoft Teams in the coming weeks, with the speed of deployment exceeding anything before it.

A quiet Microsoft Commons in Redmond, Washington as employees work from home in the time of COVID-19.

We are working across industries to accelerate research for a cure for COVID-19 and recently announced our participation in a new consortium alongside C3.ai and top universities to apply AI toward this pandemic challenge. The institute’s work aims to slow the spread of COVID-19, speed the development of medical treatments, predict its evolution and improve public health strategies. Additionally, Microsoft joined the White House-led consortium to provide COVID-19 researchers worldwide access to the most powerful High Performance Computing resources to significantly accelerate the pace of scientific discovery. As we strive to support our customers through technology, we are also doing our part to ensure our employees remain safe while contributing to efforts to protect public health and the well-being of our communities.

Planning for the future

In recent weeks, we have shared details about groundbreaking new partnerships in the financial services sector, major league sports and consumer goods and services. BlackRock is moving its Aladdin platform to Microsoft Azure, the NBA is redefining and personalizing the fan experience through Azure and its AI capabilities, and last week, as part of our deep partnership with the NFL, Microsoft Teams and Surface were part of the technology solution that brought the first-ever virtual NFL Draft to life. Just today, The Coca-Cola Company announced it is standardizing business operations on Microsoft’s cloud to modernize how the company engages with employees and customers. In addition, in late March, we announced an agreement to acquire Affirmed Networks, a leader in fully virtualized cloud-native mobile network solutions. This acquisition, which closed last week, will allow us to evolve our work with the telecommunications industry, building on our secure and trusted cloud platform for operators, while we continue to focus on interoperability and strong partnerships with suppliers, emerging innovators and other stakeholders to extend cloud-based, software-defined networking into the world of 5G connectivity.

I am deeply inspired by how our customers and partners across every industry are harnessing digital tools to navigate an uncertain landscape. While COVID-19 has disrupted lives, the resilience we see today gives me confidence that we will be prepared to build a new normal together, full of opportunity and powered by innovation and ingenuity.

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Juggling Your “Agency” During COVID

Paul Napper, co-author, “The Power of Agency: The 7 Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions, & Create a Life on Your Own Terms,” talks with Peggy and defines agency. He explains why it matters and how it is different. They also explore how having a higher agency will make you a better leader, how one increases their personal agency, and how agency is declining in the U.S.

Below is an excerpt from the interview. To hear the entire interview on The Peggy Smedley Show, visit www.peggysmedleyshow.com, and select 4/29/2020 from the archives.

Peggy Smedley:

Paul, just before the show, you and I were talking about so many things. And I’m really delighted to have you on here. And one of the most important is getting us back into gear I think, emotionally, and prepared with just so much in life right now. I mean, not only do we have to think about what’s been going on around us with COVID-19 and everything else… but while we’ve got this time to be alone, we have time to read….And I guess my question to you is, when you were sitting and thinking about writing a book, did you sit down and think, maybe this is the time I can sit down and write a book, or is this time I want to read a book? What gets people right now? Should they be thinking about all these things that are overwhelming them? Or maybe just think about writing thoughts or reading a book. What do people want to think about right now? Their minds are filled with all kinds of things.

Paul Napper:

Yeah, it’s a great question. I think a lot of people right now are feeling overwhelmed at the scope of the current crisis. And this comes on the heels of a lot of folks feeling overwhelmed just by the increased pace of life, of American life. One of the things that got us to, my writing coauthor and I, to write this book was what we were observing in the people we work with. He works with children and families, as a psychologist. And I work with business leaders, as a psychologist. And we were both noticing that in our respective populations, people feeling a lot more overwhelmed by life. And that has a lot to do with the fact that things have sped up so much over the last 20 to 30 years. Now you add in the current crisis and it’s literally like out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The old cliché, but what does it entail, requires us to adapt. And so as human beings, we’re pretty adaptable beings, right? We have good brains and we’re always trying to find ways to adapt successfully to the environment that we’re in. Whatever environments we put ourselves in or find ourselves in. And what happened again over the last 20, 30 years, is because the environment has changed so quickly and so much that it’s produced a bit of a crisis in people’s ability, their capacity to adapt. Some people have been obviously adapting a bit better than others, but today, with the COVID crisis, we see more people, because of the acute nature of this crisis, struggling to adapt. How do I adapt? How do I learn what to do? How do I?

And so, this is an important area of interest for me and my coauthor. As psychologists, we think a lot about how humans adapt. And to your question on writing, what should people be doing? Ideally, right now people should be slowing down as much as they can, trying to keep their thoughts more in the present moment. Try not to project too far out into the future and worry about next month or the month after. Let’s think about this week, let’s think about today. It’s a good time to be reading and reflecting and just being quiet with yourself and whoever else in your life you’re hunkered down with. It’s a good time to kind of engage in more quiet animal analog type activities. Getting outdoors, moving around, walking, running, any of those kinds of things. Really restorative things that help us to adapt, to help kind of recharge our batteries so that we’re better able to learn and make adaptive changes to our behaviors.

And a lot of writers, back to your question again is, they keep journals. And I’m not a journal keeper personally, but many if not most people who want to write something, they keep journals. They don’t necessarily write in them every day, but they write some of their thoughts, some of their musings, some of their ideas. And that’s a nice thing for people to be doing right now, also. Just some way of capturing their thoughts because in the midst of a crisis, there’s always a bit of an opportunity. And that opportunity is to learn new skills, develop some new creative ways to live your life, creative ways to solve problems. There can be a silver lining in this, also. But I do think it requires people to try and not get so overwhelmed by it, by exposing themselves to just way too much stimulation. Get quiet with yourself, read, think, talk with people about it. And so that, that’s really what I would recommend people try to do right now.

Smedley:

You describe an agency, is that the personal side of things that people are? You’re describing what is an agency and why does it matter. Help us understand that because I think you want people to get better in what they do in both their own work, their work life, and in their home life?

Napper:

Yeah, absolutely. Agency, I like to say to people is probably the most important thing you’ve never heard of, because most people don’t really know specifically what the word agency, meaning human agency, what it actually refers to. Most people when they hear the word agency think advertising agency or government agency. Agency has to do with our capacity as people to make choices, our capacity to use our faculties, our mental faculties, to make choices in our lives, and take our lives in a desired direction. It does have a lot to do with decision making, our capacity to make decisions and sure enough, one of the things we talk about in our book is for all of us, we really are, in many ways, the sum total of all the decisions we make over the course of our lifetimes.

Big decisions, small decisions. Obviously, bigger decisions are much more crucial. But one of the consequences of this sort of sped up lifestyle that I talked about a few minutes ago is that people are carrying around more anxiety and worry. And they’re experiencing more episodes of what they describe as is overwhelm. And this gets in the way of people being effective decision makers in their own lives. And so we wanted to write this book about what is it that’s within your own power to become better at handling your life, managing your life, making decisions for yourself, and trying to keep some of this overwhelm and anxiety at bay. A lot of people don’t realize that we actually have a silent epidemic of anxiety in the United States. 20% of Americans actually are diagnosed with a clinical anxiety disorder, at this point. It’s 20%.

Smedley:

I would bet you right now with COVID, it’s much higher right now. I’m just saying.

Napper:

And yeah, you would probably be right. And so we are a very anxious nation. In fact, the World Health Organization, a couple of years back, did a ranking and ranked the United States as the most anxious nation on earth. This is a surprise to a lot of people, but we do have some issues here in our country that require us to focus on them, to find solutions. And we wanted to write this book for people to give them the power to have more agency, more personal agency that is, to help them build the capacity to make good choices for themselves, to create the lives they want to create for themselves.

Smedley:

So increasing, not to interrupt, I apologize, but to increasing that personal agency that you described is really important. If we think about what’s happening in the world around us today, that’s important to be able to calm down, in some ways. And yet, to be able to do what you need to do. …We’d say a high agency, what does that look like? Or where are we kind of in that scheme of things that you need to be, to be able to overcome this anxiety that you’re describing?

Napper:

Yeah. Well, one way to think about it that can help is to think about anxiety and confidence as being in a seesaw relationship. If you have a higher level of agency in your life, meaning that you’re better, you feel a sense of confidence that you’re equipped to kind of handle what comes your way and to make good choices in your life. If you have that confidence, that in and of itself keeps the anxiety at bay. It’s impossible to be confident and anxious at the same time. There is a seesaw relationship between the two. When you start becoming much more anxious, your confidence level declines. We wrote this book and we decided to frame it, not as in clinical terms, as in we’ve got a big problem with worry and anxiety and it’s a clinical problem.

We decided to frame it in agency terms, which is that we have a crisis in agency, in human agency. People are feeling stuck, they’re feeling adrift, they’re feeling that something’s getting in their way from, from living the life they most want to live. And that’s agency. And when people do that, when they feel more confident in their ability to make these choices and take their lives in the desired direction, the anxiety is kept at bay. So, we thought rather than be another symptom management book about how do you manage anxiety symptoms, let’s get underneath this thing and talk about what’s really going on. And if people again, have more confidence to express themselves, to do what, in their lives, what matters most to them, and learn how to make better quality decisions, that’s what inoculates them from all this anxiety and overwhelm.

And so instead of, as you know, as you would expect, many people are simply go to the doctor, get medication. They manage the symptoms of anxiety and it works. Antianxiety medications actually lower anxiety. But in our view, for most people, it is not really addressing the core of the problems. That’s really kind of how we’re looking at it. And what we’re trying to give people is sort of teach them, how to develop more agency in their own lives. And your question about people with high levels of agency, what do they look like? Well, they have more confidence in general. They’re learners. They seek to learn. They work on their emotional and social awareness, and so they tend to work on having more emotional intelligence.

They also, interestingly enough, they control stimuli in their lives. They’re not followers of technology. They use technology, they don’t let technology use them. So that’s to say they don’t spend six hours a day on social media as a rule. They tend to be know more judicious consumers of digital information. And again, they use it rather than allowing it to use them. These high agency people, we studied them and we wrote the book, you know, but a lot of examples about how these people actually demonstrate and real life exhibit agency.

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