Amazon.com (Amazon) announced that the launch of an artificial intelligence (AI) based tracking system to enforce social distancing at its offices and warehouses in an effort to reduce the risk of employees contracting Covid-19. This announcement comes as the company faces increasing scrutiny from US lawmakers, unions, and customers over whether enough is being done to protect workers from the pandemic.
The AI, called Distance Assistant will use monitors in warehouses to highlight workers keeping a safe distance in green circles, while workers who are closer will be highlighted in red circles. Camera footage will also identify high trafficked areas. The technology behind the system will be open-sourced.
Several companies will be using such technology as they must demonstrate to workers, customers, insurers, and regulators, that they are monitoring and enforcing safe distancing practices for as long as Covid-19 is a threat. To that end, privacy activists have raised concerns about increasingly detailed tracking of people and have urged businesses to limit the use of AI to the pandemic.
This comes on the heels of Amazon announcing a pause of the sale of facial recognition to police departments for one year in the wake of calls to rethink policing around the country following the killing of George Floyd. As municipalities face financial hardship in the wake of Covid-19 along with demand in rethinking their police forces, it is reasonable to assume that camera enforcement will be increasing around the country all under the guise of public safety and equality.
Companies such as Amazon have a responsibility to operate safely and we saw in the early days of Covid-19, the US supply chain is vulnerable, but the surveillance state grows stronger by the day and since we have begun asking difficult questions as a society, this continued expansion must be discussed as well.