automated sewing Wal-Mart

Keep calm. Alarmists would have you think robots will be the workforce of the future. But automation’s already here and it’s not the uber futuristic landscape some would have you think.

Take IBM’s artificial intelligence-backed cognitive computing system IBM Watson, which is expected to reach some one billion people by the end of this year. Watson helps companies think smarter when it comes to their supply chains, marketing and commerce.

It’s clear more companies see the benefit of predictive and software analytics, with a report from Zebra Technologies’ 2017 Retail Vision Study estimating at least 75 percent of retailers’ plan on investing in such technology for loss prevention and price optimization among other things.

Fast-fashion retailer Charlotte Russe experimented with Watson during the holidays to help the company not only prepare for but manage the online business. Watson has also helped companies looking to plow through the boundless piles of unstructured date, such as social media feeds, to inform business decisions.

“In retail, there’s a lot of information, a lot of data and one of the things that companies like us struggle with is the ability to process all of that,” Diny Markose, chief digital officer of India-based watch company Titan Company Ltd. said during the IBM Amplify conference in the spring.

The question of what role automation plays in fashion and specifically design and manufacturing remains to be seen. Fears are tempered with the reality of where technology is at today, which is to say the robots can’t do everything.

“You can’t sew a shoe that way,” pointed out Hudson’s Bay and HSN Inc. board member Matthew E. Rubel during the Shoptalk conference this year.

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