Out of all the high-tech software and products one would expect facial recognition technology to be used in, who would have imagined that it would make it into the sliding doors of supermarket freezers? Yet, the pharmacy store chain Walgreen’s (the equivalent of the U.K.’s Boots) is experimenting precisely with that. The doors of its freezers in over 15 shops in both New York and Chicago are now official ‘smart doors’, meaning that they display personalised ads based on the person’s features and behaviour as measured by cameras and Artificial Intelligence systems featured into the doors of coolers.
This comes after last November Walgreens partnered with Cooler Screens, a Chicago-based startup that makes “retail cooler surfaces into IoT enabled screens”, as described on the company’s website, by featuring facial-recognition technology and eye-tracking screens to store frozen food displays. And with that, Cooler Screens aims to pave the way for the next generation of in-store shopping.
Cooler Screens’ doors contain minuscule cameras, motion sensors, and eye tracking technology that enable them to display personalised advertisements to Walgreens’ customers in order to guarantee the right product is marketed at the right time to the right person. Based on your gender, your age range, but also on other facts such as the temperature outside, how long you stand in front of a section, and on your emotional response to a particular product, the AI targets you with what it believes to be what you really want, need; desire.
Many agree that it was about time in-store marketing filled the gap between brands and customers by developing an internet-style advertising strategy that is able to offer customers the ad-hoc experience typical of online advertising. With such as Coca-Cola, Nestle, and MillerCoors already contracted with Cooler Screens, it seems as though we will encounter an increasing number of digital doors in the near future.
Of course this AI-powered marketing strategy raises the usual privacy concerns, such as, is this a privacy breach? Are these devices biased? And what about our autonomy when it comes to decision making? Responding to such criticism, Cooler Screens is set on keeping users feeling calm and secure, claiming that despite the use of facial recognition technology, the company only collects anonymous data and does not identify customers. “The business model is not built on selling customers’ data… The business model is built on providing intelligence to brands and to retailers to craft a much better shopping experience.” Said Arsen Avakian, co-founder of Cooler Screens.
No more wasting time comparing products. No more walking up and down the aisle looking for what you think you are looking for. No more buying unwanted goods. This is what Cooler Screens’ premise in embedded in. As this AI shopping software ensures a facilitated customer experience, I can’t help but wonder how this high-tech twist on real-life shopping could influence people’s taste to new and unpredictable extents.
Will this technology survive against the free will of buyers who attempt to remain immune the tide of Artificial Intelligence and its data-based predictions? Smart Cooler’s mission is only at its infancy, and it’s hard to predict its success in the long run. Yet the premise of its offering is undoubtedly attractive to both brands and retailers. Now, it’s only a matter of testing the digital doors’ performance and discovering whether you’ve been buying the wrong flavour ice cream for a decade.
OK, it’s time to address the lab-grown meat in the room. Raise your hand if you’ve heard of or have already engaged in a full-blown discussion about meat (and possibly dairy) that has been grown inside a Petri dish. It seems as though this imminent industry has forever lurked around the corner, but as far as consumers are concerned, has anyone ever even seen a Petri dish steak—let alone nabbed a bite out of one?
Back in 2013, food critics gathered around the world’s first lab-grown burger in a long-anticipated press conference—the burger was paid for by none other than Google co-founder Sergey Brin and cost £215,000 to produce. The reaction to the faux meat was underwhelming to say the least. The food critics reported that the burger tasted “Close to meat, but not that juicy”. And the world’s own fascination with this bizarre concept of a lab-grown slab of meat soon faded too.
But while climate change advocates who had turned to full-blown veganism, sourcing meat locally, or simply limiting their meat consumption to but a few times a month in a bit to reduce their environmental impact, scientists have not ceased to tweak their meat creation.
The technology used to grow food out of Petri dishes is called cellular agriculture. It works by reproducing and multiplying “muscle tissue from a handful of cells taken from an animal. These cells are then nurtured on a scaffold in a bioreactor and fed with a special nutrient broth”, as reported by MIT Technology Review. In theory, meat grown under these conditions is ‘real’ meat on every level—its flesh is red and blood bloody. The only real difference is that it never was a part of an animal, and that’s the truly strange concept to get our heads around.
Many food production industries have a high negative impact on the environment, but few are as palpable as the meat and dairy industries. A recent study shows that the production of meat and dairy takes up 83 percent of global farmland and produces 60 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, opting out of consuming products from these industries could be the single most effective way of reducing our environmental impact on a personal and global scale, across both pollution and farmland.
So with that in mind—if meat floats your boat that is—wouldn’t a lab-grown steak which produces 19 percent of Carbon Monoxide for every 20 grams as opposed to its animal meat counterpart at 24 percent make more sense to consume? According to Impossible Foods, a faux meat company using only plant-based ingredients, the 4 percent reduction from real meat to lab meat isn’t good enough.
The company is one of many who entered the scene in recent years as part of a growing group who are trying to reduce the environmental impact of meat even further. According to Impossible Foods and its peers, products that mimic all things meat need only combine a delicate combination of plant-based ingredients and a bit of science to tie them all together in a neat hamburger, bolognese or salami.
Whether it’s plant-based or lab-grown, it’s becoming apparent that in order to seriously reduce our greenhouse emissions and impact on the environment, our consumption relationship with meat (and dairy) will need to change. And fast. What needs to follow is not only alternatives that are truly sustainable but that are healthy and, well, equally delicious.