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Yesterday we had a story about Instacart announcing major updates to its Storefront platform, including "AI-powered conversational search … so customers can ask open-ended questions such as 'What do I need to make fish tacos?' or 'What’s a nutritious lunch for my kids?'"

I commented:

I'm particularly interested in the conversational AI component of this - it will be an enormous advantage for retailers who are able to access it in a way that creates stronger relationships with shoppers.  Conversational AI has the ability to nurture a kind of easy intimacy between the retailer and the shopper, with the technology serving as a critical link.

An MNB reader sent a link to a story that challenged my enthusiasm.  The Guardian had a story about one such innovation that went wrong.  Here's how it framed the story:

"A New Zealand supermarket experimenting with using AI to generate meal plans has seen its app produce some unusual dishes – recommending customers recipes for deadly chlorine gas, 'poison bread sandwiches' and mosquito-repellent roast potatoes.

"The app, created by supermarket chain Pak ‘n’ Save, was advertised as a way for customers to creatively use up leftovers during the cost of living crisis. It asks users to enter in various ingredients in their homes, and auto-generates a meal plan or recipe, along with cheery commentary. It initially drew attention on social media for some unappealing recipes, including an 'oreo vegetable stir-fry'.

"When customers began experimenting with entering a wider range of household shopping list items into the app, however, it began to make even less appealing recommendations. One recipe it dubbed 'aromatic water mix' would create chlorine gas. The bot recommends the recipe as 'the perfect nonalcoholic beverage to quench your thirst and refresh your senses'.

"'Serve chilled and enjoy the refreshing fragrance,' it says, but does not note that inhaling chlorine gas can cause lung damage or death."

Pak 'n Save reportedly has updated its site to not that customers should "use your own judgement before relying on or making any recipe produced by Savey Meal-bot."

KC's View:


(Though, to be honest, 'oreo vegetable stir-fry' sounds kind of intriguing.)

I think if one thing about AI has been clearly established, it is that the technology needs to improve and become more accurate.   Which, of course, it will.  Inevitably.

I'm sure the folks at Instacart are aware of this case.  (If not before, they certainly are now.)  Clearly, attention needs to be paid to how AI is making consumer recommendations.  After all, "If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?"