Macys, CVS, Starbucks, and Sephora turn to AI

If you are scrambling to find last minute gifts, AI/machine learning is here to help!  All the major retailers are now turning to AI to learn what you want.  Big data about retail purchases are being fed into machine learning algorithms to learn things about you.  Here are some examples.  By the way, have you wondered, "what exactly is machine learning?"  Then see the end of this post for an easily digestible video.

[Forbes] Macy's Teams With IBM Watson For AI-Powered Mobile Shopping Assistant

Macy’s is set to launch an in-store shopping assistant powered by artificial intelligence thanks to a new tie-up with IBM Watson via developer partner and intelligent engagement platform, Satisfi.

Macy’s On Call, as it’s called, is a cognitive mobile web tool that will help shoppers get information as they navigate 10 of the retail company’s stores around the US during this pilot stage.

Customers are able to input questions in natural language regarding things like where specific products, departments, and brands are located, to what services and facilities can be found in a particular store. In return, they receive customised relevant responses. The initiative is based on the idea that consumers are increasingly likely to turn to their smartphones than they are a store associate for help when out at physical retail.
If you always have a caramel macchiato on Mondays, but Tuesdays call for the straight stuff, a double espresso, then Starbucks Corporation (SBUX - Get Report) is ready to know every nuance of your coffee habit. There will be no coffee secrets between you, if you’re a Rewards member, and Starbucks.

The chain’s regulars will find their every java wish ready to be fulfilled and, the food and drink items you haven’t yet thought about presented to you as what you’re most likely to want next.

So targeted is the technology behind this program that, if the weather is sunny, you’ll get a different suggestion than if the day is rainy.
Patients tend to be at their local CVS much more frequently than at the doctor. People are also increasingly using fitness trackers like FitBits, smartwatches, and even Bluetooth-enabled scales that are all collecting data patients can choose to share with a provider. All that data isn’t worth much though unless it is carefully interpreted — something Watson can do much more efficiently than a team of people.

A drop in activity levels, a sudden change in weight, or prescriptions that aren’t being filled are the kinds of things that might be flagged by the system. Certain changes could even indicate a developing sickness before someone feels ill — and certainly before someone decides to visit the doctor.

[AdWeek] Sephora Mastered In-Store Sales By Investing in Data and Cutting-Edge Technology

I love Sephora.  As the article aptly states "Sephora isn’t your mother’s makeup company; it’s your modern tech company". I have personally tried the Color IQ, which is their in-store program that scans faces to find out the right shade of foundation and other products for different skin tones. Sephora has an amazing Beauty Insider program that provides it a lot of rich data about their consumers and now the company is leveraging AI to allow customers to virtually try on make-up and spice up their online presence.

Sephora’s innovation lab in San Francisco is tooling with an artificial intelligence feature dubbed Virtual Artist within its mobile app that uses facial recognition to virtually try on makeup products.

[CGP Grey] How do machines learn?

The science behind machine/deep learning neural networks is quite interesting.  For example, the discussion, in the video, about us not knowing what is exactly is being learned is interesting to me (the hidden layer).  But you don't have time for that!  Here is an easily understood video: