Coming around the corner in the grocery store last week I encountered this tall metal object beeping at me. Since I don’t speak robot, I was not sure what I was supposed to do. Was it wanting to go past me? Was I to wait for it to turn the corner? I stared at it for a while and it kept beeping. Deciding it had no better idea than I did about what to do, I moved around it and went on down the next aisle.
This robot is named Marty and comes equipped with googly eyes to make it seem more what? Personable? I found the encounter unsettling and asked at the checkout stand what was the purpose of this roving robot. Apparently it moves up and down the aisles looking for spilled items and then announces–in a robot voice–“clean up in aisle 4.” Previously I saw a disabled young man roving the store with a mop. Perhaps Marty replaced him.
Marty, it turns out, is equipped with a camera. “Only to record if someone kicks him,” I am told. Ha! Call me suspicious, but I doubt it. I guess this “soft” introduction of a robot into a union employee grocery chain is to get us used to mechanical intrusions. The store has failed to convince all of us to check out ourselves, bag our own groceries, pay by credit card, and leave without any human interaction at all. Some of us Luddites still prefer to see a cashier when we buy groceries. But the writing is on the wall, I am afraid.
Maybe I can convince Marty to carry my purchases to the car!