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Hello, this is the Co-op Digital newsletter - it looks at what's happening in the internet/digital world and how it's relevant to the Co-op, to retail businesses, and most importantly to people, communities and society. Thank you for reading - send ideas and feedback to @rod on Twitter. Please tell a friend about it!

Infected Earth by Beeple

[Image: Beeple - see events, below]

 

Is “Covid-proof” a marketing strategy?

Will store safety end up being an essential “hygiene factor”? Will it be a marketing strategy in future? If a shop or a supply chain can be assured as “Covid-proof”, are you more likely to shop there? Or will you go back to shopping everywhere when everything “returns to normal”? 

💥 Why this matters: the virus won’t be “solved” quickly and has sufficiently accelerated change, so there’s no longer a “normal before” to return to. So safety will remain an important consideration.

Two good quotes from that article:

"Cleanliness has moved from a compliance responsibility to something that is part of the customer experience."

“Previous to COVID, you would try to do a lot of cleanliness and janitorial practices out of sight of customers. Now you want them to be visible, because you want to send a message to customers that things are safer”

Managing queues inside and outside Co-op stores during the pandemic. That’s a great read about how the Co-op pulled a team together, researched remotely, planned, tested, iterated and ultimately improved ways to give shoppers useful information and to manage queues at shops.

There has been encouraging news on vaccines, but even so it looks like the coronavirus is a "around a long time, live with it" thing. So beyond the current social distancing and hand sanitation measures what might a COVID-proof shop look like, materially? Unfortunately, fears about the virus have driven shoppers back to single use plastic shopping bags, which sounds bad for everyone except the plastics industry. Similarly, delivered grocery uses a *lot* of single-use plastic bags. So perhaps there will be reusable bags and containers with anti-viral coatings

Refitting is a longer-term option. You can imagine today’s self-serve sanitation stations becoming automated and permanently built into store thresholds and shelf displays. Perhaps some shops will refit for infection control, replacing plastic and steel door handles and work surfaces with copper, or refitting fabrics and materials impregnated with silver? There are some small-scale architecture ideas and set ups for outdoor eating (like Arup, Rockwell).

 

Amazon Go in the UK

Amazon will launch 10 or more checkoutless Go stores in UK by the end of the year, the first of them in London.

Sainsbury’s piloted a checkoutless store in London in 2019, but ended the pilot because the need to download and register on a dedicated mobile app discouraged passing trade.

💥 Why this matters: Amazon continues to experiment with retail formats. Go stores are a marketing beachhead for selling the technology to other retailers.

Also Amazon: 

 

Uber: moving meals not people

Ridehailing giant Uber has always looked like a next generation taxi service, with some incremental businesses (delivery) tacked on. But Uber’s second financial quarter results just saw food delivery revenue overtake ridehail revenue! Ride bookings were down 73%, food delivery orders (Uber Eats) were up 113%. This doesn’t mean that Uber’s main business is over: Uber will expand to 170 locations in the UK by buying Autocab. But the main thing and the side gig are swapping places. Or more accurately: Uber’s core business is moving vehicles around, not moving people around.

💥 Why this matters: the virus turns industries upside down and forces organisations to reinvent. Reinvention often looks like digital transformation but it feels scary if your organisation is really optimised for doing the thing that *used* to work. 

 

Can machine learning write like humans write?

GPT-3 is a machine learning system which doesn’t understand language but does write it. It’s 

an auto-complete tool that is a skilled predictor of which word comes next. And yet it’s capable, to varying degrees, of writing music; playing chess; telling jokes; and talking about philosophy. This is surprising, since we think our own ability to do all these things is due to capacities that GPT-3 lacks - understanding, perception, agency.”

💥 Why this matters: When machines can generate content that is plausibly written by humans, and when the internet gives you infinite ways to publish that content (and even attribute it to others), there will be a crisis in trust. So you’d expect to see a lot of work in future on how content could be provably authenticated as “authored by this human”. 

GPT-3 is sufficiently good at predicting the next word that you can make search engines with it. It had a clunky predecessor called GPT-2, which you can try out on the internet. If you give it the first sentence of this story, GPT-2 will write things like this:

“GPT-3 is a machine learning system which doesn’t understand language but does write it. This post explains what this machine learning system is, how it can be used and how it is going to help me to understand better how I ’ve been taught to write. Let me explain. There are some things that machine learning can't do. One of them is understanding how you write. We need to learn how to write something. This is the goal of machine learning. We need to learn to write something , so we will write about a system that can write that . What I will show you is a model which can make an accurate estimate of how you write”

If you were a human that made a living writing, you might find that reassuring, threatening and critical all at the same time. It’s not great writing, but GPT-3 is apparently much better. The “try GPT-3 out” websites aren’t often online because it costs the creators a lot of money just to let newsletter writers see if they’ve still got jobs. However there is a “friendly competition” online to see whether humans or GPT-3 can write the better performing headlines (further reinforcing the dispiriting view that click through rates should be the critical measure of online content quality! :( ) 

 

Signals/numbers

Procter & Gamble sales rise 4% as consumers buy more cleaning products.

WH Smith may cut 1,500 jobs after sales plummet.

'Staggering' levels of plastic pollution by 2040 - 1.3 billion tonnes.

UK electrical waste mountain growing - 1.45 million tonnes a year.

 

Various things

Bill English: Computer mouse co-creator dies at 91 - “In an experiment, the pair asked users to try out the mouse alongside other pointing devices such as a light pen or joystick - and found that the mouse was the clear favourite.”

Neobank Monzo’s annual report makes its community nervous - though accounting rules make expected losses look extra painful. 

Entrepreneur's 'free rice ATMs' for Vietnam's poor.

After those poor Boston Robotics robodogs get rescued by the RSPCA from the people that used to kick them, they get jobs where they are loved. Like Fluffy, who now works at Ford, laser scanning its factories, and being loved by its manager. You could imagine that being used for gap scanning the aisles of a supermarket. 

 

Co-op Digital news and events

Federation - free events: 

  • Andy’s Man Club – Gentleman's Peer to Peer Mental Health Meet Up – Mondays 7pm
  • Self Care – Online Workshops – Various dates/times in July
  • Virtual Data Expedition – Online Workshop – 11 Aug – 10am
  • NW Drupal User Group – Meet Up – 11 Aug – 7pm
  • Beginners Guide to Retrofit – Webinar – 12 Aug – 6pm
  • Women in Tech – Networking – 13 Aug – 8.30am
  • Motion North – Animation & design Showcase – 13 Aug - 7pm. Motion North is an animation & motion design enterprise at Federation House. Their online event features not one but two stateside speakers! First up is GMUNK. A designer and director who uses a fusion of science-fiction themes and psychedelic palettes to produce enigmatic and atmospheric work. Following on is Beeple Crap, renowned for his “everydays” producing a piece of work every day with the purpose of developing and getting “better at different things”. 
  • Meteoric Meters – Acoustic & Spoken Word Open Mic Night – 20 Aug – 6pm
  • LGBTQIA – Hackathon – 28-30 Aug

 Paid for events:

  • Invisible Cities - Online Tours of Manchester or Edinburgh – Various Dates & Times
  • Mandala Yoga – Online Yoga Sessions - Various Dates & Times
  • Tech Ethics – Meet Up – Various Dates & Times

More detail on Federation House’s events. You can also see how The Federation is planning for a safe return to the co-working floor.

 

Thank you for reading

Thank you, beloved readers and contributors. Please continue to send ideas, questions, corrections, improvements, etc to @rod on Twitter. If you have enjoyed reading, please tell a friend! If you want to find out more about Co-op Digital, follow us @CoopDigital on Twitter and read the Co-op Digital Blog. Previous newsletters.

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