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Sam Walton’s original five-and-dime, Bentonville, Arkansas. Photo: Erica Pandey/Axios
In the 1980s, Walmart was the archvillain of capitalism: the ruthless killer of main streets and mom-and-pops, outrageously profitable and, by all appearances, unstoppable.
Now, the 57-year-old retailer has a new role in American society: the anti-Amazon.
Erica reports from Bentonville, Arkansas: Amid a decade-long era of heady corporate profits, vast numbers of workers feel untethered, distrustful and without a sense of belonging and dignity. Amazon, like the rest of Big Tech, is being swept up in this crisis of faith, villainized for its very bigness.
Walmart — at least in rhetoric — is attempting to move into the breach. Out of sheer necessity to survive the Amazon juggernaut's retail onslaught, it is casting itself as the foil.
The rebrand has its skeptics: Louis Hyman, a historian of capitalism at Cornell University, tells Axios: “I’m sure Walmart wants to position itself as a small-town business, but that’s just not true. Walmart is still a 500-pound gorilla.”
Yet Walmart's rebranding appears to have traction: With a network of some 4,700 stores that are within 10 miles of 90% of Americans, Walmart is perhaps better positioned than any government agency, think tank or company to take the economic pulse of the U.S. It is using that on-the-ground presence to position itself as a champion of distressed and alienated America.
On stage at a conference in Bentonville today, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon sat across from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who asked him the ultimate question: How will you stay relevant?
McMillon said: "There’s a strong and heavy dose of humanity in it. ... A differentiating characteristic of our company will be that we still care about people, and they know it."
Photo: Felix Hörhager/picture alliance/Getty
Every weapon is on the table in the war against democracy-disrupting deepfakes — from technology to detect the AI-altered videos and audio to legislation that would punish creating and distributing them.
Kaveh reports: The big problem is that these solutions don't work yet. So a third approach is gaining traction: developing a way to verify that a video hasn't been altered.
The big picture: The bet is that authenticating videos — tracing them back to their source, like an expensive diamond — is a better solution than trying to sniff out forgeries after they've already been made, which is extremely hard.
What's going on: On Monday, Amber CEO Shamir Allibhai presented his company's technology during a meeting of the foremost deepfake warriors at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. There, he pitched video authentication for body cameras.
The big challenge is getting bodycam manufacturers to install this software on their equipment. Allibhai says he's in talks with several companies, but none have committed as yet.
The bottom line: For now, deepfakes aren't the biggest worry for bodycams. They still take a while to make, and they're not quite good enough to escape close scrutiny. But nearly every expert agrees that's not going to be the case for long.
"We'll see a [police] video that's highly controversial in some way … and it's going to take 10 minutes before people start raising questions about whether it's been manipulated."— Jay Stanley, ACLU
An LAPD officer holding predictive policing zone maps. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Nine U.S. police departments have relied on possibly faulty data in their predictive policing systems, which look for patterns to forecast where crimes will occur or who will commit them, according to a new report from the AI Now Institute.
Kaveh writes: This is a huge problem because the accuracy of these systems' predictions relies entirely on the accuracy of data.
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
A crucial step for avoiding AI disasters (Sue Shellenbarger — WSJ)
Cratering corporate profits (Courtenay Brown, Felix Salmon — Axios)
A fortune to call from a U.S. jail (Hanna Kozlowska — Quartz)
Mars Rover out (Kenneth Chang — NYT)
Google to build $13B in data centers and offices (Gerrit De Vynck — Bloomberg)
At the Walmart Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas. Photo: Erica Pandey
While in Bentonville, Arkansas, this week, Erica spent some time at the Walmart museum. The above display caught her eye — how some of today's products were merchandised in the 1960s.
Erica's thought bubble: I loved the juxtaposition within this smattering of products. There’s Crest and Sensodyne, two brands I have in my house, right next to Pace lotion for hair perms, something I heard about for the first time today.