by Evan Sixtin
Retail giant Walmart submitted two U.S. Patent Applications on April 19, 2018, claiming the invention of computer systems utilizing blockchain technology for automatic integration of courier services into the online shopping experience.
Walmart Wades Further into ‘Blockchain’
The Walmart blockchain tech team consists of five programmers from the U.S. and one from the U.K. In their patent applications for a Courier Shopping System and a Vendor Payment Sharing System, the Walmart team hopes to corner the market on distributed ledger technology that weaves together vendors, customers, and couriers into one shopping network where payments are collected, divided, and paid out among the vendors and couriers using a permissioned blockchain. This network would also allow for peer-to-peer shopping and delivery services among participants and include a reputation/rating system.
Strangely, the patents are less technical and read more like a white paper/proof of concept. They dive into philosophical theories of human psychology and spend several paragraphs of fancy wording to prove obvious points and establish a basis for what is already considered common sense.
For example, the following excerpt tries to explain that people prefer things to be convenient, “The conventional forces working in each person’s mind are typically more-or-less constantly evaluating the value propositions that correspond to a path of least effort to thereby order their lives towards the things they value. A key reason that happens is because the actual ordering occurs in material space and people must exert real energy in pursuit of their desired ordering. People therefore naturally try to find the path with the least real energy expended that still moves them to the valued order.”
Monitoring Your Daily Routine
And it goes on, and on… and on like that. However, the method behind this madness seems to be to justify the proposed behavior monitoring that the technology in these patents hopes to achieve. By monitoring each individual’s behavior and choices over an extended time period (possibly an entire lifetime), this new Walmart shopping network hopes to map out its customers’ value systems to know what products and services they prefer and how they want it delivered to them.
“Depending upon what sensors a person encounters, information can be available regarding a person’s travels, lifestyle, calorie expenditure over time, diet, habits, interests and affinities, choices and assumed risks, and so forth. This process will accommodate either or both real-time or non-real time access to such information as well as either or both push and pull-based paradigms.”
The patent continues:
“By monitoring a person’s behavior over time a general sense of that person’s daily routine can be established (sometimes referred to herein as a routine experiential base state). As a very simple illustrative example, a routine experiential base state can include a typical daily event timeline for the person that represents typical locations that the person visits and/or typical activities in which the person engages.”
Wait a minute, what do we have here? A blockchain peer-to-peer courier service or an Orwellian-type blockchain for monitoring an individual’s every move so that his behavior can be predicted? The further you dive into these patents, the more creepy this new Walmart system becomes. The patents also reference the intended use of Artificial Intelligence and integration with the Internet of Things.
Patents Unclear on Many Details
What the patents are missing is the actual programming concepts and technical specifications on how this behavior-monitoring on the blockchain will be achieved. It seems that Walmart’s main concern is patenting the concept of monitoring customer behaviors in order to be a sole collector for this valuable profiling data which would create an in-depth snapshot of every person who uses this system and store it forever on a blockchain.
With the recent, rather laughable inquisition of Mark Zuckerberg, where the US government, in a classic “pot calling the kettle black” scenario, accused Facebook of violating the public’s privacy, it is quite disturbing to discover that much more sinister violations of privacy are brewing in the US patent offices and at Walmart headquarters as we speak… buyer beware!