Will Douglas Heaven at MIT Technology Review: “In the week of April 12-18, the top 10 search terms on Amazon.com were: toilet paper, face mask, hand sanitizer, paper towels, Lysol spray, Clorox wipes, mask, Lysol, masks for germ protection, and N95 mask. People weren’t just searching, they were buying too—and in bulk. The majority of people looking for masks ended up buying the new Amazon #1 Best Seller, “Face Mask, Pack of 50”.
When covid-19 hit, we started buying things we’d never bought before. The shift was sudden: the mainstays of Amazon’s top ten—phone cases, phone chargers, Lego—were knocked off the charts in just a few days. Nozzle, a London-based consultancy specializing in algorithmic advertising for Amazon sellers, captured the rapid change in this simple graph.
It took less than a week at the end of February for the top 10 Amazon search terms in multiple countries to fill up with products related to covid-19. You can track the spread of the pandemic by what we shopped for: the items peaked first in Italy, followed by Spain, France, Canada, and the US. The UK and Germany lag slightly behind. “It’s an incredible transition in the space of five days,” says Rael Cline, Nozzle’s CEO. The ripple effects have been seen across retail supply chains.
But they have also affected artificial intelligence, causing hiccups for the algorithms that run behind the scenes in inventory management, fraud detection, marketing, and more. Machine-learning models trained on normal human behavior are now finding that normal has changed, and some are no longer working as they should.
How bad the situation is depends on whom you talk to. According to Pactera Edge, a global AI consultancy, “automation is in tailspin.” Others say they are keeping a cautious eye on automated systems that are just about holding up, stepping in with a manual correction when needed.
What’s clear is that the pandemic has revealed how intertwined our lives are with AI, exposing a delicate codependence in which changes to our behavior change how AI works, and changes to how AI works change our behavior. This is also a reminder that human involvement in automated systems remains key. “You can never sit and forget when you’re in such extraordinary circumstances,” says Cline….(More)”.