Did you ever walk through a mall and come across a mannequin that just gave you the creeps? Or how about the ones that seem to be staring at you? Well, once again truth just might be stranger than fictionand maybe even more disturbing.
Almax is an Italian mannequin producer that is selling retailers a new mannequin called EyeSee. These mannequins literally watch customers as they stroll through the store. Embedded in the mannequins eyes is the same software used to identify criminals at airports. Andrew Roberts writes about this interesting new product in Bloomberg Businessweek (In Some Stores, All Eyes Are on You 12/10/1212/16/12, pp. 3233):
A camera in one eye feeds data into demographic-profiling software to determine the age, gender, and race of passersby. The year-old device is designed for merchants who increasingly use technology to help personalize their offerings. Any software that can help profile people while keeping their identities anonymous is fantastic, says Uche Okonkwo, executive director of Paris-based consultant Luxe. It could really enhance the shopping experience, the product assortment, and help brands better understand their customers. (p. 32)
Well, look on the bright side. At least you could stroll through these stores and feel like the mannequin is watching you without anyone calling you paranoid.
On the other hand, some question the ethics of this technology. The talk among international lawyers suggests technology-enabled consumer observations for business profiling could be construed as collecting personal information without consent. And we all know how we feel about that.
Almax isnt sitting still though, even if the mannequins are. Roberts describes the companys plans to imbue these humanoids with even more covert and overt powers:
To give the EyeSee ears as well as eyes, Almax is testing technology that recognizes words to allow retailers to eavesdrop on what shoppers say about the mannequins attire. . . . The company also plans to add screens next to the dummies to prompt customers to consider products relevant to their profile, much as cookies and pop-up ads do on the Web. (p. 33)
I think some people will definitely feel creeped out by these encounters, but I think many folks will welcome the personalization. Shopping can be challenging enough. Therefore, if a virtual shopping assistant can manipulate a few things to make your experience easier, then maybe everyone wins.
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