Morning Brew - ☕ Robot responsibilities

How Sam’s Club taps AI to help run its stores.
June 02, 2023

Emerging Tech Brew


It’s Friday. While respondents to a Morning Consult survey waffled about their willingness to trust AI companies, Sam’s Club onboarded a multitasking robot and entrusted it with monitoring stock, flagging potential problems, and…scrubbing the floors. Would you trust Roberta (that’s the name of one of the robots) if you encountered it while on a run for paper towels, coffee, and pantry staples? Read on to decide:

In today’s edition:

Patrick Kulp, Maeve Allsup, Annie Saunders


(More than) cleanup, aisle 5

(More than) cleanup, aisle Sam’s Club

Every morning around 8 or 10 at the Sam’s Club in Secaucus, New Jersey, a robotic floor-scrubbing vehicle named Roberta roams up and down the warehouse’s aisles.

Roberta is one of a fleet deployed at the company’s locations across the United States. But it does more than clean the floors: Roberta is tasked with using its computer vision algorithms to check the stock levels of items, ensure every display area is presentable, and flag anything that seems out of place.

The autonomous daily rounds are just one element of how Sam’s Club seeks to use robotics and algorithms to overhaul how its stores are run.

Keep reading here.—PK



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A present problem

Earth covered by lines signifying a cage of trade flows Francis Scialabba

The tech industry is a substantial contributor to the estimated $468 billion worth of imported goods that are at risk of being produced by forced labor, a new report found.

International human rights group Walk Free’s fifth Global Slavery Index, released in May, revealed that there were 49.6 million people globally in “modern slavery on any given day in 2021.”

According to the report, nearly two-thirds of forced labor globally is linked to supply chains, with the majority of cases occurring in raw materials extraction and production.

Felix Papier, an operations and supply chain management professor at ESSEC Business School in Paris and currently a visiting scholar at the University of California Los Angeles, said reducing exposure to forced labor in a supply chain requires transparency, which is particularly challenging in the tech industry.

Keep reading here.—MA



Trust issues

artistic rendering of two heads facing in opposite directions Drafter123/Getty Images

New Morning Consult data indicates that adults in the US are split about their trust of AI companies, but more respondents were likely to support additional government regulation of the sector than less.

In a survey conducted in late April, 38% of respondents indicated they “trust artificial AI companies to do the right thing,” while 26% said they didn’t know and 36% indicated they “don’t trust” AI companies.

  • According to Morning Consult’s data, Democrats (47%) are more likely to say they trust AI companies than Republicans (32%) or independents (33%).
  • There’s also a generational divide, with millennials displaying the most support at 48%, and only 27% of Baby Boomers saying they trust AI companies. The ever-elusive Gen Zs are still on the fence, with 38% saying they trusted AI companies and 38% saying they didn’t.

Keep reading here.—MA



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Stat: 33%. That’s the percentage of Elon Musk’s purchase price that Twitter is now worth, Bloomberg reported, citing Fidelity. And this isn’t the first time Twitter’s valuation has been slashed since Musk took over: “Fidelity first reduced the value of its Twitter stake in November, to 44% of the purchase price. That was followed by further markdowns in December and February,” per Bloomberg.

Quote: “We’re obviously trying to anthropomorphize AI, make it in our image…Because we don’t really know how else to build and understand a new kind of intelligence. But I think it’s much more likely that it’s going to be like a reptile, in that it has its instincts, but we can’t understand what’s going on inside its brain and listen to its actual thoughts.”—Respell founder Matthew Rastovac to the New York Times in a story about the new generation of AI-focused entrepreneurs.

Read: I asked AI chatbots to help me shop. They all failed (Wired)


Peloton instructor Leanne Hainsby is on a stationary bike saying, Peloton via Giphy

Usually, we write about the business of tech. Here, we highlight the *tech* of tech.

Peloton goes populist: The maker of stationary bicycles and other exercise equipment (and a subscription-based app full of classes) has been struggling not just because nearly everyone has eschewed masks and trudged back to the gym. It’s faced recalls, production woes, layoffs, and more, Marketing Brew’s Katie Hicks reported. Now, it’s “going through a full rebrand, hoping to bounce back the way it did after its much-maligned 2019 holiday ad. This time, it wants to establish itself as an everyperson’s health company rather than a bike company for the wealthy and fit.”

Et tu, Temu?: Have you been lured by an odd little ad full of unidentifiable products and prompted to download the Temu app? It’s got a bit of everything for sale—think dried flowers, brushes, organizers, clothes, and on and on. Everything is suspiciously cheap. Since it first appeared last year, the app has steadily climbed to the top of US app stores. But that popularity comes at a steep cost: Wired reported that “Temu is losing an average of $30 per order as it throws money at trying to break into the American market.”


Catch up on the top Tech Brew stories from the past few editions:


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Written by Patrick Kulp, Maeve Allsup, and Annie Saunders

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