Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Robots Invade the Super Market

Today's trip to the supermarket left me feeling, as usual, conflicted. But today's conflict was not caused by the usual culprits of unruly taste buds and health conscience brain cells battling it out. No, this day's conflict was fueled by technology. It seems our local grocery store has installed hand held scanners that let you scan your food as you shop, thus outsourcing the checkout clerk's job to the customers.
I won't lie, it was certainly fun running through the aisles pretending to scan alien life forms and shouting Captain Kirk quotes. Checking out after our trip was also quite speedy. But as computers expand into every aspect of my life, my love/hate relationship with technology grows larger.
Set phasers to stun!

How many years do we have left before the coming robot revolution? They can already beat us at chess and build our cars. Now they follow me through the grocery store showing me digital coupons and begging me to buy more Oreos while I do the same job the use to pay a person to do. Not to mention I almost accidentally stole four items when I forgot to scan them. I've seen the Matrix enough times to know what happens next. All too often we seem to be blinded by the coolness of new technology to notice it's downside until it is far too late. I guess I'll just go home and blog about it on my computer.


  1. Its not just the many other novels and movies show us the possible future with artificial intelligence. I think that Walle is the only one that sheds a good light on those well functioning machines! Maybe we should not be afraid of the computers...but what we are programming them to do. Like your post pointed out...these electronic scanners, fun as they are, may be responsible for the future loss of check out clerks. Can this be a good thing?

  2. Whoo hoo, I can comment now without signing up for another account somewhere!

    Interesting concept. I'm sure I'd be accidentally stealing all sorts of stuff, though it'd probably be a wash since whenever I put something on the grate under the cart I always forget it in the parking lot (but somehow they always remember to charge me for it).

    I wouldn't be concerned though, I don't see this catching on. First, there is the theft problem (accidental or otherwise). Second, grocery stores have moved to a model of trying to get you to spend more than you were planning to on each visit. Sure they can offer you coupons to entice you (which they already do on the shelf right next to the product), but being able to see a running total of your purchases will empower people to stick to their budget. Also, this is barely more convenient for people than scanning and bagging (which still needs to be done at some point) their own groceries at the self checkout. It's less convenient if you're buying things that need to be weighed (where I assume this is useless). In light of these issues, I just can't see supermarkets investing in the infrastructure to adopt this system across all their stores. The holy grail for the stores is RFID, which is about a billion times more scary than this.


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