October 30th, 2017 by Oren Smilansky

Last week, retail behemoth Walmart announced that it will soon be piloting robots in 50 of its United States stores, located in Arkansas, California, and Pennsylvania. The robots, measured at about two feet tall and equipped with cameras, will travel through store aisles to check what’s in stock, identify misplaced and missing items, and find pricing and labeling errors. They’ll then pass these details along to employees who can use the information to fix the problems.

The robots are “50 percent more productive than their human counterparts and can scan shelves” more accurately, and three times faster, Jeremy King, CTO for Walmart’s U.S. and e-commerce divisions, told Reuters. With luck, they’ll help Walmart ensure that their customers find the items that they need, and secure them more sales.

Of course, all of this begs a question that has come up so frequently lately: What does this all mean for the human beings that have usually done such jobs?  

WalMart has taken the predictable stance, saying that the move will enable store employees to focus on the tasks that they prefer–those that are more interesting or enjoyable to them. “If you are running up and down the aisle and you want to decide if we are out of Cheerios or not, a human doesn’t do that job very well, and they don’t like it,” King told Reuters.

With the assistance of machines, presumably, employees will be in a better assist their customers with other service questions they might have, for instance.

In agreement is Javier Minhondo, vice president of technology at the Artificial Intelligence Studio at Globant, a software development company. In an email to CRM magazine, Minhondo called the move an ideal example of how AI can aid humans in their work environment, while making customer experiences more efficient and relevant. “Walmart’s robots can provide support that will allow humans to perform the task with higher added value, hence making their jobs much better, and more fulfilling,” he said. For instance, given the current state of the art, he said, there’s no way that a robot will be able to replace the human interaction required of a sales representative. “The robot and the human are both able to execute on the functions that they perform best, improving customer experience and business efficiencies, while at the same time enhancing the experience of the human in the loop.”

Whatever the case, it will be jarring to see the store continue to evolve, as robots begin performing more and more tasks that have traditionally been carried out by people.

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