Axios Seattle

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April 05, 2024

Always good to see you, Friday.

☁️ Today's weather: Mostly cloudy. High near 55.

🎂 Happy birthday to our Axios Seattle member Jessie Friedmann! And an early happy birthday to member Kate Olness!

Today's newsletter is 908 words, a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Amazon's no-checkout flop shows AI's limits

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Amazon's decision to shut down its grocery stores' flashy "Just Walk Out" technology delivered a slap in the face to some of the most extreme predictions about AI.

Why it matters: AI is still not ready to operate on its own in complex physical environments full of people, like grocery stores or roads.

Driving the news: Amazon is phasing out the system that lets shoppers bypass checkout lines by tracking their purchases with cameras and sensors in its full-size Amazon Fresh grocery stores.

  • In Seattle, Fresh on Capitol Hill — the first full-size cashier-less Amazon Go Grocery store, which opened in 2020 — will close this weekend, per GeekWire.
  • The technology will continue to operate in Amazon Go convenience stores, but in larger stores, Amazon says shoppers will use a "smart" cart that scans and registers each item as it's added.

Between the lines: The experiment in cashier-free stores offered convenience, but the data-obsessed tech giant seems to have concluded that it wasn't improving fast enough to make it cost-effective, experts suggest.

How it worked: Just Walk Out — like many AI systems — relied a lot on old-school human labor.

  • Amazon used workers in India to label the data that trained its object-recognition AI. They also served as backup reviewers for problem transactions.

The AI industry relies heavily on labor, often in developing countries, for data labeling tasks.

  • AI experts argue that most of today's systems won't work accurately and safely without a human being in the loop, but the system is supposed to keep improving until it no longer needs human feedback.

What we're watching: AI may not be ready to make supermarket checkouts obsolete, but there's a silver lining: If it's not capable of tabulating a grocery bill on its own, it's also not able to destroy humanity.

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2. Where to see the solar eclipse in Seattle

<span style="display: block;text-align: center;">Path of the April 8, 2024 eclipse</span>
Data: NASA; Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

A glimpse of this month's once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse is already one of the country's hottest attractions, and while the Seattle area is nowhere near the path of totality, weather permitting, we may get a peek at the phenomenon.

Why it matters: If we get a break between clouds on Monday morning, as National Weather Service Seattle meteorologist Dev McMillian predicts, Seattleites should be able to see the Moon passing in front of the bottom fifth of the Sun.

  • The eclipse begins for Seattle viewers around 10:39am, peaks at 11:29am and will be over by 12:21pm, per Time and Date.

The big picture: While Seattle will only experience a partial eclipse, as the Moon's shadow passes northeast across North America it should completely engulf several major U.S. cities in shadow.

Threat level: Make sure you wear eclipse glasses or viewers that meet international standard ISO 12312-2, designed for Sun gazing; looking directly at the Sun can permanently damage your retinas.

Worthy of your time: UW Astronomy is hosting an eclipse viewing event in the courtyard of the Physics-Astronomy Building 10:30am–12:30pm Monday and will have telescopes and eclipse glasses.

What's next: Still feeling FOMO? Mark your calendar for March 13 next year, when Seattle will get to see a total lunar eclipse of the blood Moon at midnight.

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3. Morning Buzz: Blowout fallout

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

✈️ Boeing has paid $160 million to Alaska Airlines in compensation for jet groundings after a panel blew out of a Boeing 737 MAX 9 in January. (Axios)

💰 An anonymous donor has offered $50,000 to help more than 200 asylum seekers who had been sleeping in tents outside Seattle's Garfield Community Center get back into a hotel. (Seattle Times)

🎓 Seattle University will partner with Alaska Pacific University to create Alaska's first law school starting this fall when the Anchorage-based university begins offering a dual law and Master of Business Administration program. (KTOO)

🏗️ Amazon is restarting construction on a 42-story office tower in Bellevue that was paused in 2022 when there was more uncertainty about how hybrid work would impact the company's office space needs.

  • With the addition of 500,000 square feet of work space, the new spaces will have room for about 4,500 AWS employees. (GeekWire)

4. Things to do in Seattle this weekend

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

From the "World Cup of breakdancing"
to taco trucks and dragon egg hunts, there's no shortage of things to keep you busy around Seattle and Puget Sound this weekend.


🐲 Search for 25 hidden hand-blown glass eggs on a dragon egg hunt in downtown Renton, where the city will be commemorating the arrival five years ago of rooftop guardian Erasmus. 9am–8pm. Free.

🎙️ Hear the James Beard Award-winning blogger behind The Everywhereist, Geraldine DeRuiter, talk about how cooking and cuisine fuel her feminism. 7:30pm at Town Hall Seattle. Tickets are on a sliding scale from $5–$25.

🎸 Seattle-based indie/psych band Weep Wave takes the stage with Hi-Wasted and Serpentfoot at the Sunset Tavern in Ballard. Tickets are about $15 in advance to $20 at the door. Doors open at 8pm.


🤼‍♀️ Chow down at the Taco Libre Truck Showdown, where you'll find an array of taco trucks, a margarita bar, wrestling performances, a mariachi band and a night market at Hangar 30 in Magnuson Park. 4–10pm, 21 and over, no pets. $15–$25.

⚡️ Catch the "World Cup of breakdancing" at the Red Bull Lords of the Floor 2x2 competition, hosted by internationally known and Tacoma-bred comedian Jo Koy, with 16 duos from around the world vying for a spot on the global stage. WAMU Theater at Lumen Field at 7pm. Tickets are around $100.


💧 Clarridge is amused by people in the path of totality complaining about the possibility of rain. Or is that mean?

This newsletter was edited by Rachel La Corte and copy edited by Egan Millard.