My Inner Luddite

This week I encountered a robot while shopping. I was at Sam’s Club, and after getting an electric cart (because I have some trouble walking) I started down an aisle leading to the back of the store. Then, right in front of me, was this large cart slowly going in the same direction. Who would take up most of the aisle moving along at such a slow pace? Then I realized that nobody was pushing this care, and nobody was riding it. It was driving itself.

Fortunately, the large, lumbering thing turned right down a side aisle. I could then speed up towards the fruit section at the rear, where I picked myself up a nice bag of apples. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but it doesn’t appear to keep robots away. I ran into it (I did not literally run into it, but encountered it) a few more times. During one encounter, I talked to a woman who had paused her shopping and was laughing at the driverless cart. I suggested that perhaps another time we might try trapping it by approaching it from different ends of the same aisle.

Many people have encountered robots of one kind or another. There are even self-driving cars to be found on the west coast. But for me this thing in a store was a first. It just didn’t feel right. Somehow, it felt as if it was invading my space. Next time, I may well go ahead and recruit another shopper so that we can trap this beast and see how it reacts.

Perhaps I should be less aggressive. To quote from Sam’s club online statement:

Sam’s Club is hyper focused on making sure our members have a seamless shopping experience, so any time-saving innovation we can implement is significant. By adding Inventory Scan to our current fleet of robotic scrubbers, we obtain critical inventory data that previously was time consuming to obtain.

Technology can help make things cheaper, and in many cases safer. It can be so very convenient. Alexa plays music, reads the news, turns lights on and off, and sets alarms for me. At other times, though, technology can bring out my Luddite tendencies, especially when it seems to slow things down, or lose the plot. Take, for example, the computers that now answer our phone calls to businesses.

A while back, I phoned the dealership to make an appointment for my car to be serviced. I found myself talking to a computer. It didn’t seem to understand what I wanted. Eventually I managed to book an appointment, but I still wanted to know how long the appointment would last. When it asked if I had any more questions, I said yes. It, unhelpfully, responded by saying goodbye, and hung up. Computers do not suffer from high blood pressure. Humans do.

There are ways to escape computer hell. Yesterday, I again phoned the dealership. Once again I got Bozzo the computer. I needed brake linings to be replaced. It asked me if I needed the car to be serviced or repaired. In a moment of sheer human brilliance, I said a magic word. “Both.” I had beaten its brain, and it responded by asking me to hold while it connected me to an operator. It only took a few minutes to make an appointment, which was available that very afternoon. Phew! Robots never say “phew.” Humans do.

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