Data Dive: Erica, Ripple, Cashierless Checkout


One of the more remarkable things about soccer – other than the amazingly massive global audience commands – is that it is one of the few examples in professional sports where games can actually end with no winner or loser. Unique among sports, soccer has room for ties.

Even in the opening rounds of the World Cup, the planet’s largest soccer competition, ties are an acceptable outcome to a game. After round 16, when the knockout rounds begin, all games must end in a win, so overtime goes into effect.  

It’s a thought that comes to mind this week because the World Cup is currently underway in Russia, and because this week’s news managed to offer up a win, a loss and a draw, depending on where one looked.  

The Win: Bank of America’s Virtual Assistant

It was a win this week for a digital assistant that’s not named Google, Alexa, Siri or Bixby. No, the virtual assistant feeling the love this week is Erica, the AI voice-activated assistant rolled out by Bank of America through its mobile banking app.  

According to a release earlier this week, Erica now has one million users, a milestone managed in just two months.  

“Our clients are increasingly asking for mobile services that make their lives easier, and Erica is becoming a growing choice for its convenience and personal solutions,” said Michelle Moore, head of digital banking at Bank of America. “As we continue to advance our work on AI-driven developments, it is important that we listen to our users today and further enhance Erica to align to client feedback to better meet and anticipate needs.”

According to Bank of America, the Erica AI is a combination product that puts AI, predictive analytics and natural language processing into one digital solution to serve customers’ needs. Users can interact with Erica via texting, talking or tapping options on a screen. Thus far, Erica has mainly been used to search for transactions, view balances and bills, and obtain credit scores and account numbers, thus far.

Now that Erica is available nationwide, the bank says the next move is to add more features to the mobile banking app where it makes its digital home. Some of those upgrades will include the ability to explore products and services as soon as the app is downloaded, a new chat option that connects consumers directly to a specialist, and a digital wallet functionality that enables clients to add and instantly approve credit cards to their eWallets.

To date, Bank of America reports that it has enrolled 36 million digital clients, including 25 million active mobile banking users.

During the first quarter of this year, mobile banking clients logged into their accounts 1.4 billion times, made 140 million bill payments and deposited 33 million checks via mobile.

The Loss: Ripple 

It looks like distributed ledger startup Ripple is facing a new lawsuit that alleges its XRP cryptocurrency is really a security in disguise.

Vladi Zakinov has filed a class-action lawsuit, naming Ripple Labs, XRP II (the company’s licensed money services business), CEO Brad Garlinghouse and 25 anonymous persons as defendants. The complaint was submitted to the Superior Court of California in San Mateo county.

According to Zakinov, the XRP token is a security controlled by Ripple, and he states he was damaged by a February purchase of that token.

“XRP, despite its name as a ‘token,’ is actually a security under California law,” states the lawsuit. “In particular: (i) Ripple uses the funds it raised from the sale of XRP to fund its business ventures; (ii) the Company indiscriminately offers XRP for sale to the public at large; (iii) plaintiff and the Class (as defined herein) are effectively powerless to control the success of Ripple and XRP; and (iv) plaintiff and the Class members’ investment is substantially at risk and is without nay security.”

The filing also alleges that Ripple and the other named defendants “were required to register XRP when offering or selling it,” but never did, and that the defendant “made a series of improper statements, which drove up the price of XRP.” 

A spokesperson for Ripple denied the lawsuit’s claims.

“This is just another example of an extortionist bringing forth an opportunistic suit that lacks merit. We feel confident that the claims regarding XRP are completely unfounded both in law and fact,” the representative said.

Ripple’s situation was not made any clearer earlier this week when the SEC offered its official take on cryptocurrency as security, which was essentially “sometimes.”

Specifically, the SEC found that while some decentralized cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin and Ethereum, are not securities, other types, like those generated in ICOs, very often are, because they are created by a specific firm and offered to customers as holders of value.

Ripple, which falls between those two types of cryptocurrency, went unnamed in the decision.

Tie: The March Forward of Cashierless Checkout

Microsoft is getting in shape to take on Amazon in the cashierless checkout market by working on its own self-checkout technology.

Reuters, citing six people familiar with the matter, reported that Microsoft’s Business AI Solutions team is working on cashierless technology that would track the items placed in a shopping cart, removing the need to get in line and interact with a cashier. That tech has supposedly been shown to retailers worldwide, and there are rumors that Walmart is in talks to be one of the collaborators with the Microsoft product. 

That big play by Microsoft comes as Amazon is getting ready for a big push of its Amazon Go stores into Chicago and San Francisco. Like the Go location launched in the ground floor of Amazon’s new headquarters in Seattle, customers at the new location will first have to download the Amazon Go app, then can scan it upon entry and simply pick up what they want to buy – no need to stop at a checkout counter or scan anything else. The combined efforts of sensors, cameras and in-store computer vision will automatically scan consumers’ items and tally them as they shop. When the customer leaves, the store will charge them for what they took. 

There is currently no date as to when Microsoft plans to roll out the technology if it moves ahead, but cashierless checkout seems to be where the industry is heading.

So why the tie?  

Well, that advance in technology may be good for customers – and even retailers – but as Bureau of Labor Statistics figures pointed out this week, it might be some pretty bad news for cashiers everywhere. According to the latest BLS estimates, 80,000 fast food jobs will be gone by 2024, scuttled on the heels of automation.

And that’s just fast food – when one starts counting convenience stores and grocers, the numbers start looking like very bad news for cash register operators everywhere.  

Which means we’ll give the automated games a tie score this week – interesting and good for some, while worrisome and likely not so good for others.  

But then, in life as in soccer, clear wins and clear losses are not the only outcomes out there.

Have a good week.

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