Progressive Grocer

SEP 2016

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September 2016 | | 155 H ave you ever wondered how sites like Ama- zon recommend what products you might want to buy, often with astounding accu- racy? at's an algorithm at work. Ever had any experience with online dating? Your romantic encounters were likely a result of algorithms designed to help users find their perfect match. In fact, countless businesses — in- cluding Google, the internet behemoth that has become a verb in and of itself — owe their success to algorithms. ese tools have the power to use vast amounts of raw data to provide fast, efficient and scalable solutions to complex problems, like calculating the fastest routes for logistics companies to deliver goods, and helping supermarkets track customers' buying patterns to help decide exactly what products to stock and where to put them. Despite these benefits, however, there are still doubts as to whether algorithms are appropriate in all situations — particularly those that still require the "human touch." Sylvain Perrier is president and CEO of Mercatus Technologies, a Toronto-based enterprise-grade software company specializing in digital solutions for North American grocery. The Case for Human Curation ere are two schools of thought when it comes to the humans-versus-machines argument. One camp believes that as the amount of data increases, the importance of human judgment decreases, while the other argues that algorithms can be impersonal, inaccurate and sometimes serve up suggestions that are way off the mark. e truth is that humans have a powerful weapon in their arsenal that algorithms lack: ey have the abil- ity to ask "why," something that even the most intelli- gent machines aren't inclined to ask. Anyone who's ever fallen victim to obtrusive and often irrelevant ads, or had updates from friends consigned to the algorithmic void of the news feed, will likely understand the anti-algorithm opinion. Instances such as these build the case for human intervention and curation, and prove that relying on data and math alone won't suffice when it comes to providing the best user experience possible. Where Algorithms Shine While the human brain is an astonishing machine, it isn't without its limitations. In the digital epoch, there are now more potential data inputs than ever — includ- ing web search history, social media activity and cus- tomer service interactions — meaning that the potential pool of data available to retailers to create one-to-one shopping experiences is deeper than ever before. But this pool has become so extensive that it surpasses our human ability to understand it, and that's where the power, precision, reliability and speed of execution of algorithms come into play. So in the age of Big Data and algorithmic personaliza- tion, does human intuition still have a role to play? e truth is that, while algorithms may not perform better than people in every instance, they do consis- tently perform better than most people — and today's customers demand consistent experiences in every single interaction. What's more, as other online retailers have begun to master the art of personalization, consumers' expectations have only intensified. At this juncture, there's a solid argument for com- bining the two, using both the scalability of algorithms and the inherent understanding of humans to ensure the best possible outcomes. Human judgment simply can't compete against machine-learning systems that obtain predictions from millions of data points — but that doesn't mean there isn't still a place for gut feeling and intuition. After all, online dating sites may present you with plenty of options for dates, but your friends are likely going to be far better judges of character. PG Digital By Sylvain Perrier Rise of the Machines Are algorithms better than humans at making decisions? When it comes to creating personalized experiences and providing users with truly relevant content, can computers or people do it better?

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