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Why AI Can't Replace Everything

The first time I got to try a self-serve ice cream server, I was in heaven.  All the frozen goodness you could pile on a cake cone (or bowl for the amateurs) was at the push of a button.  We were at a self-serve buffet, where once again, you could pile all the bad foods you could eat on a clean plate for each service.  Each time you got up for a re-pile, your dirty plates disappeared, and you returned to free-range at the table.  That was way back in the late 1900’s when we first started self-pumping our own gas.  Back then, service was still a ‘thing’ and adding ‘self’ in front of it was an anomaly.

            Here we live in 2018 and a mere two decades later, self is the thing and service is the anomaly.  I guess if ‘selfies’ are the photo option of choice, it should be no surprise that we now complete most every task on our own, with very little assistance from others.  As frustrating as it might be, given the choice in a retail space, bank, medical facility or any public space, I will always find the operator on duty and make them work.  If I thought I was saving money doing things myself, I would be all in for the experience.  Best I can calculate, no one is adjusting pricing to have me scan my own products, bag my own items and carry everything out to the car and THEN return the cart to a designated spot nowhere near my parking space.

            I do recall the transition from full service gas station fill-ups to self-service.  Back in the day, you pulled into the covered bay, running over the rubber tube that dinged the bell.  The man we could trust with the ‘star’ came out smiling and asked if you wanted leaded or unleaded.  Your windshield was cleaned, oil checked, tires aired, and you were sent on your way with a smile and a salute to see you next time.  Today, you can get gas on any corner with a tank; you worried if your credit card will be skimmed; you pay extra for air; the windshield cleaner bucket is either empty or the cleaner is so dirty it adds bugs to your view; and heaven forbid you have to ask for assistance from the annoyed worker behind the bulletproof glass.  Sometimes you get a receipt, sometimes you have a garbled conversation that ends with shrugged shoulders and an “I can’t help you.”

            Leaving a grocery store these days is no picnic.  The regular shoppers with the 23 items in the 10 items or less line does not cease.  Even I quit writing checks months ago, but there is always a kind octogenarian balancing their account as the checkout clerk is waiting with the receipt.  I remain steadfast in requiring a minimum wage worker to scan my items and attempt to make change.  When the asked if I want paper or plastic, I hand them my own self carry bag, but I wait for them to bag the bag.  On occasion, I am asked if I want help out with my purchase, but I have learned that is more of a courtesy ask than and actual offer of assistance.

            Recently, I chose to see what this self-service system scanning was all about—I actually by-passed my regular checker and darted over to the empty area of the store where no one was self-helping themselves.  I soon discovered why.  First, starting the thingy was no easy feat.  The secret voice that self-guided one through the self-serve steps was not working.  I had to wait for an actual human to arrive and jump start the self-service.  Next, the self-server self-scanned my item twice.  The human had to return to ask if I wanted another item or did I want the extra charge removed.  I had to wait for a third human to show up and remove the extra charge from my self-service-scamming attempt.

            Bagging is very delicate in these self-service operations.  If the self-service scanner does not like the way you bagged your item, all systems stop so yet another human can arrive to correct the scanner’s displeasure.   Once you have completed your self-service-self-scanning, you then must walk through menus and menus of how to pay.  Cash is not preferred.  I discovered that when I was owed change, but the machine was out of dimes and dollars.  Yet another human arrived to determined I had properly calculated my insertions and was indeed owed cash back.  I then had to wait for a multi-human exchange to provide me with $2.35.  My self-service transaction involved six human interactions and three times the effort to depart the store with my items.

            I understand the future is here I will eventually need to order everything through the internets and wait for its arrive on my door step.  Cash will be something Grandma Meyer used in the olden days and interaction with humans will be limited to family arguments over holiday dinners.  For now, I will continue to seek out my minimum wage clerk and get my stuff bagged the old fashion way—eggs on bottom heavy stuff on top.

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