The Robot Will See You Now

We’re in Las Vegas this week, where Kit is speaking on ADD in entrepreneurs at Affiliate Summit. I came along since it’s always interesting to do some networking, and I was able to set up a few meetings while here. Including, by the way, with someone I’ve known for years that works on Mensa’s national conference — the “A.G.” or Annual Gathering in Mensa-speak, which will be in Indianapolis this summer. The topic: Kit thinks it’s time for me to end my self-exile from speaking, and wants us both to speak at the A.G.

The Crossroads of America

I’ve never been to Indiana, so why not? I know there are a lot of Mensans in True’s audience, so if you’re on the fence about attending this year, there’s another factor to use to decide. Mensa audiences are fun: they alllmost always get my jokes instantly.

The “almost” is funny: at my very first Mensa speech, at a “Regional Gathering” in Orange County, Calif., there was this one woman in the audience who took all the taglines literally, and would loudly ask “REALLY?!” on just about every joke. After about five of those, I gave the tag and then — before she could say anything — I turned to her and said “No, not really!” The crowd ROARED.

The topic was the “Seven Deadly Sins” — and I introduced the 8th: stupidity. The crowd loved it. But when I introduced the then-Brand Spanking New Get Out of Hell Free card, there was almost a riot as the audience jumped up to get to Kit, who had a huge stack and was handing them out.

The Most Patient Dealer Ever

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, I was a bit amazed at something new I hadn’t seen before: a blackjack table with no dealer. It’s all computerized. REALLY? Yes, really!

The robo-dealer just stands there, looking around, “hoping” that someone sits down. Really. Photo taken today at the Bally Casino in Las Vegas ©2018 Randy Cassingham (Click to see larger.)

Seriously: I’m All for Automating Processes, But there are some things that just shouldn’t be dehumanized. Gambling can be viewed as either entertainment or an addiction; there’s nothing better at pushing a casual gamer from the former position to the latter than sitting there alone, gambling without any human contact — other than maybe a cocktail waitress plying you with free drinks to help mask the passing of time.

Yeah, I know: there are robot bartenders too. Hopefully they’re programmed to listen to your problems and give reassuring grunts in reply.

So Why Go?

Really, if it’s going to be an automated experience of sitting solo, why not just do that at home, online? That way, you can have the music you want playing, rather than whatever trendy tripe is being piped in at the casino. No risk of drunk driving when you leave. No need to pay for a hotel room.

On the rare occasions where I’ve gambled, viewing it as entertainment where I sometimes walk away with more money than when I started, part of the attraction is interacting with other gamblers, the dealer or croupier, and others. (And I’m an introvert!) So now the casinos are testing doing away with the human part of the equation? No need to pay for a blackjack dealer: just have a computer deal the cards. All the money goes back and forth on a card, which the marks (uh… customers) are encouraged to use so they get “points” — just like frequent flier miles.

Which is one of the reasons I don’t gamble anymore. It’s just not entertaining anymore. My entertainment dollars go elsewhere — so I wouldn’t even think of going to Vegas for vacation, even though there are good shows there.

Part of a Trend

It’s not just casinos. The “self checkout” stands at grocery stores take humans out too — and I’ve read they’re expanding that “experiment” and may not have any human-staffed checkouts soon. Yes, I understand employees are more expensive than machines, but for some people, talking to the clerk is the most human interaction they get all day. If they don’t get that, then they may as well get their groceries from Amazon, so at least they can say Hi to the UPS driver when they arrive. Except Amazon would rather do the “last mile” delivery by drones….

Certainly I get it: people are expensive. But once we have all the people replaced with machines, will the now-unemployed masses be able to afford to buy anything?

I’m far from a Luddite: I love tech. But I like people, too, and I’m wondering if we’re going too far. Customer service matters: it’s why I have an employee who takes care of your orders, and your questions. Sorry, but I’m not going to play blackjack with a machine. Or if I was inclined to, I would do it from home, not at a smoky casino that offers me $15 drinks and $16 burgers (and mediocre ones at that).

And even though Walmart is the closest store to my house, why go there if the only employees are security guards watching me (or would those just be robotic cameras)? I’ll take Amazon over that every time, and take my chances that Tanya, my UPS driver, will still be behind the wheel.

The Best Part About the Blackjack Bot: I’ve had to pass by it a bunch of times to and from conference sessions, and I haven’t seen anyone using it — not once. Maybe the world won’t end after all.

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38 Comments on “The Robot Will See You Now

  1. Ah, but you still have a choice to use a human dealer at a table. I’ll have to pay attention the next time I see one of these things (while I live in Las Vegas, the main reason I’m even on the Strip these days is to attend Vegas Golden Knights hockey games). I’m mostly curious as to what the table min / max is on these (it may fill in for low end table games). Also, you can’t really sexually harass a computer dealer, even if she is wearing a low cut dress.

    Good question: I’ll check the table limits when I pass the table again tomorrow, at which time I will not comment on the dealer’s plunging neckline. -rc

    Update: When I went by again Tuesday morning, I noticed that the screen itself shows the stakes: it’s a $5 table, which you can see in the upper right of the screen (just barely). And it makes total sense: of course it’s part of the programming! They can experiment with differing levels, or adapt as needed during heavy demand. Though, I still haven’t seen anyone use it. -rc

  2. Interestingly, one of our local grocery chains, after going to mostly self check, has now eliminated them and gone back to many more manned express lanes.

    I work at a public library. We have self checks, but find that most of our patrons prefer the human interaction. Another local library went to all self check, saw a precipitous drop in circulation, and added back manned stations.

    • Grocery stores have a problem for self-checkout: fresh produce. As they are generally weight-based (not too big an issue) and not bar-coded (a fairly large problem), self-checkout tends to be inefficient for them compared to a trained clerk. Additionally, laws generally prevent alcohol at self-checkout (I know that is the case here in California).

      Between those, I’ve seen a number of people get have lots of trouble at the self-checkout at the Ralph’s near me, and have to ring up their groceries twice: once at self-checkout, then again at a normal register.

      I’ve also seen the self-checkout have issues with bring-your-own-bags, where the weight system tends to get confused if you do stuff even slightly out of the expected order, then requiring an attendant to come fix (has happened to me at least twice). This can probably be fixed by adjusting the programming a bit, however.

      Overall, my experience is that self-checkout can be helpful, but, especially if they sell groceries, probably need to be in the minority due to the above problems. Mostly, I’ve found they are beneficial if I need to run out and grab a small number of items that I can carry out, but are more work than savings otherwise.

  3. Some years ago I was in Las Vegas and checked out the poker tables at several casinos. I had no time to actually play at any of them. Until I got to the last one. It was something new being tested. The table — and cards — were automated. You got a card that had your stake on it and you played that way. I sat down with a card called, no kidding, “Steve Perry Is God”. After several drinks and many changes of other players i ended up winning it all. $250,000. Unfortunately, it was play money. *sob* It was fun to be sure, but I prefer a live dealer, real cards and real chips.

    And if it was “live”? There’s no way you would have won so easily! Training the marks, I guess. -rc

  4. Thank you for this post. I personally avoid self-checkouts whenever possible, for exactly the reasons you listed above. I don’t want people to lose their jobs (work as a cashier may not be the most glamorous position but it’s important and employs a lot of people); the point of work is not just to get something done, it’s also to give people something important to do. I figure if I refuse to use the self-checkouts (when this is an option; I was at a store recently that did NOT offer that and was cranky about it but had to use the self-checkout because I was going to catch a plane and didn’t want to lose time putting everything back and finding another store) then I’m “voting with my feet”, so to speak.

    (And perhaps someone else can speak to this, but it seems like self-checkout stands [at least the kind with no human attendants; most have at least one person somewhere nearby] would make shoplifting much easier because no one is paying close attention to what you’re doing with your stuff. Or is that harder than it would seem?)

  5. I think that having a choice is the main thing. While I wouldn’t ever sit at an automated table, because like you, I at least enjoy the human interaction aspect, even if it is just me and the dealer, having the choice is nice. I have also been in New Orleans, Las Vegas and on several cruise ships where every table was full and I had to keep walking around the casino to find an empty seat for the games I wanted to play. When that happens, I’m sure the casino would rather have some of these machines ready to handle the additional customers during busier times. The last few times I have been in Vegas and New Orleans, those tables have had more than a couple of people sitting at them. While I’m on the choice subject, buying groceries is another thing. I prefer the human cashiers, but if I go to the store and can get out faster by using an automated system, then I’ll choose the fastest option.

    The ironic thing about this automation topic coming up is that in the same issue where you mentioned this, you touched on a subject that consumers have been doing for years with automated systems with little or no complaining. You mentioned that Oregon was finally allowing users to pump their own gas and I’m sure that they will eventually get on board with the pay at the pump stations that most of the other states have been using for years. While I prefer human interaction for many things, there are some, like pumping gas, where I’d prefer to just get it done at the pump and get on my way. Having to go inside to get them to turn on the pump and then to go back inside to pay for it drives me nuts and I have left gas stations where pay at the pump wasn’t working and go to their competition that has it working.

    The other factor that is driving this move towards automation is that it does reduce the need for additional employees. If the groups that is pushing for higher minimum wages or a living wage get their way, then this is going to be accelerated and we are going to see more and more automated systems even faster. I’m sure that the number crunchers have already figured out that when minimum wages go beyond a certain point that employees will be replaced with the automated systems.

  6. I think there are very interesting social/economic issues here, and I wonder about them frequently.

    Generally, consumers will consistently pick lower prices over service. People complain about airline seat spacing, but still buy the cheapest tickets (not the slightly higher-priced ones with more legroom). They buy from Amazon instead of a brick-and-mortar because the prices are lower. (OK, sometimes it’s more convenient too.) They bemoan the loss of local hardware stores, while buying from Home Depot because the prices are lower.

    If market A has humans and market B has self-checkout, and A is a bit more expensive, any bets about which will get more business?

    The price of robots keeps going down, and (because of minimum-wage and benefit laws) the price of humans keeps going up. How long until McDonalds has fully-automated or near-fully-automated restaurants?

    What will we do when automation means that the demand for labor is consistently lower than the supply of labor? Normal supply-demand behavior would mean that the price would go down, but minimum-wage laws put a floor on that.

    What will we do as online buying becomes still faster and cheaper, compared to brick-and-mortar, and the brick-and-mortar places all go away? Will there just be no way to see the stuff in person before buying?

    I don’t claim to have answers to these questions… but the situations seem inevitable, and it will be … interesting … to see how it all works out.

  7. Small town shopper, every weekend. Routine is to go with my darlin’ wife to either breakfast or lunch first — THEN the grocery store. Pass on the fast food for eating — ditto on the automated checkout line. While both might be more convenient, why is that important? We don’t get enough time to spend together as it is, no need to speed through the weekend as though playing a part in the movie “Click”.

    Confess to trying self check one time (when I was not in a hurry). What a crazy experience. Stop in front of this widget, put your goods on a device to read (or misread) the UPC bar code, and then put it in a bag. Repeat the process with stops and starts and then failed attempt to enter coupons and pay. Had to be assisted by the helpful human employee in charge of the self checkout machines section. Several big red flashing lights later determined either myself or the process (or both) is flawed and have not had inclination to try it again to date.

    Oh, forgot to mention, I’m a computer technician since the late 1980’s. Technology has its place. However, it is a tool to be used as necessary; should not be used as a replacement for community.

  8. Having lived in Oregon for 20+ years, I loved having someone else pump my gas. My station also checked everything else — oil, washer fluid, antifreeze, etc. In my fourth year in Idaho now, and I never check the oil (just head to Jiffy when they tell me I’m due), check the antifreeze after the first hard freeze (who’s gonna think about it ahead of time), and don’t know where the washer fluid goes…it just ran out. I’d hose it off, but the hoses have been emptied and put away for the winter (by my brother — never remember to do it).

    My thought: taking care of things, checking the oil (etc.) is simply part of adulting. -rc

  9. I’ve been going to Vegas for the past 14 or so years, and I’ve seen those automated blackjack “tables” for quite a few years. Also some roulette ones.

    When I play, it’s with a live dealer, for the same reasons you’ve said.

    I also eschew self checkout machines in supermarkets (and Home Depot) because they cost people jobs as cashiers. True, there’s a human attendant, but only one for four to six machines. That’s three to five cashier positions eliminated.

    Oh, a nit pick, people are “who”, not “that” or “which” (“with someone I’ve known for years that works on Mensa’s national conference”).

    Nitpick is one word. 🙂 -rc

  10. I shop occasionally at the local Walmart, they have self-checkout lanes as well as human services, I have never used the self-checkout lanes and will stop shopping there if they eliminate the human services. Maybe it’s just because I’m old (71 next month), or maybe it’s because they have humans standing there watching the self-checkers. I don’t see why they have the self-service with human watchers they have to pay to stand there and do nothing most of the time instead of just having the humans stand at a checkout line and do the work. But if the only choice is using the self-checkouts or go to another store, I’m out the door to a store with humans, and not shy about saying so at the human-served store that still pays workers to work. Nor do I hesitate to tell the workers at Walmart that as well.

  11. My sister checked in at T5 Heathrow. New thing I hadn’t seen before. Check in and tag your own luggage!!

    So. You get to the airport and you go to a machine to print out your boarding pass. Then you see ONE person who ASKS you where you’re going. You get in a queue until someone at the other end (probably soon to be replaced by one of those machine that tells you which counter is free) tells you to go to a check-in desk. YOU the scan your boarding pass, put your luggage on the rolling thing, print out your luggage tag, attach it, send it on its merry way and print out your luggage receipt.

  12. That robo-dealer looks like something out of a Tex Avery cartoon. In fact, I swear there was a Tex Avery cartoon with something like that.

    On a more serious note: I confess that, unlike most of the people above, I do gravitate towards the self-checkout lines. However, in the first place, I have an anxiety/panic disorder that largely manifests in crowds, and in the second place, I have chronic serious otitis media that frequently (but not consistently) causes me to have difficulty hearing well. If I’m having a panic attack, I’m going to go for the fastest line — which is almost invariably the self-checkout — and get the heck out of there. And if I’m having a day where my ears are blocked up, especially if there’s a lot of background noise, I’m going to choose the checkout option where I don’t have to guess if the clerk just asked me “Did you find everything okay?” or “How are you today?” and face the embarrassment of the weird looks when I cheerfully answer the wrong question. I also like the automated kiosks at Panera, because it’s a lot easier to customize a grilled cheese sandwich that way.

    However, do I believe that everything should be automated? Absolutely not. First of all, I really don’t like doing self-checkout if I’m buying more than ten items, or something where I have to look up the product code and guess what it’s listed as in the computer. Second of all, sometimes I actually do like interacting with people. A computer won’t say it’s missed seeing me when I don’t walk into Rite-Aid on my lunch break in two weeks. A computer won’t bring me a cup of coffee as soon as I sit down at my favorite diner and ask why my brother isn’t with me. A computer might remember that my mom and I are usually on two separate tickets, but it won’t laugh and tease me about confusing it when I tell it that I’m treating her this time.

    The best way to get the clerks to stop asking you questions: say “Sorry, I’m very hard of hearing.” Then they won’t expect you to hear them, but there’s an opening if they “really” have to ask something. -rc

  13. I for one would look forward to hearing you speak at an AG again! I really enjoyed your speech several years back on the Eighth Deadly Sin.

    The most deadly of them all! -rc

  14. This sounds a little hypocritical to me Randy… In the same issue of This is True, you call out New Jersey for not having self service gas stations. Isn’t that another way of “taking humans out of it”?

    Being from Michigan, I was surprised the first time I pulled in for gas while in New Jersey. However I look at it this way… While the reason for not allowing you to pump your own gas in New Jersey may be antiquated, or the result of a crooked deal, it does provide for additional jobs that self service gas stations do not have.

    There’s a huge difference between a law requiring unneeded customer services and businesses choosing to stiff you on customer service. -rc

  15. They’ve had automated roulette on the rez for years now. I don’t trust anything automated (as far as gambling) because it can be manipulated. You know the risks with slot machines, I just don’t trust it for poker or blackjack.

    • Me neither! The odds on mechanicals are bad enough.

      BTW an article last year mentioned that Russian hackers had been cleaning up at US casinos. Seems that when Russia outlawed gambling, hackers bought up electronic slot machines and discovered they’re run with ‘false random’ numbers — then developed an app to take advantage of it.

      I read about the Russian gambit last year in Wired, and it’s fascinating. And not how I would program a “random” number generator, which is surprisingly hard to do with a computer. -rc

  16. When I was about 12 years old in Indianapolis, my Dad (a med student) took the Mensa qualification test — and found a mistake on their test. My 17 year old brother took the same test — and got a higher score than Dad. At Dad’s insistence, I took it — and missed the mark by a noticeable margin (hey — I was TWELVE, OK?)

    I did attend one meeting with Dad; the one memorable take-away was this: With all that brain power and intellect in one room, they could’ve solved some of the world’s problems. Yet, these geniuses couldn’t agree on who to call to get snacks delivered to the meeting. They were all so sure of their own intelligence that not one of them had the common sense to concede or compromise in order to reach a solution for a problem. They never did get any food delivered to that meeting — and I never attended another one.

    As a result of that — and a few other little incidents over the years — I’m convinced that “IQ” has very little to do with “smart”. I mean, I had to wire my brother’s stereo speakers for him. And when my brother and his son (also a Mensan) met my son and me at Mom’s house to install her new garage door opener, in the time it took them to read the instructions, make sure they had all the tools, and get ready to work, my son and I had the unit mounted to the ceiling and had most of the wiring in place, without ever even seeing the instructions.

    As I’m sure you know … being ‘smart’ makes Facebook a painful and frustrating experience.

    Yep, I’ve written before about the difference between “Mensa smart” and common sense/education. One doesn’t mean the other by a long shot. (Not to mention some lack social skills.) It’s a complex equation for sure, and frankly I’d rather have more common sense than more raw I.Q. -rc

  17. When the self-service checkout was first introduced at a local store (Waitrose) I asked one of the staff if they minded and/or whether it would mean job losses. The answer was simple — they found manning the checkout soul destroying and they said there were plenty of other things they could be doing (helping customers, restocking shelves etc).

    The system is easy — you get a hand-held scanner to read bar codes — where fresh produce is there are weighing machines that print out price and barcode and you pack your bag(s) as you go round. There’s always at least one staff member near the checkout machines if help is needed (mostly to process coupons and give the OK if you’ve bought alcohol). The checkout machine will randomly choose a customer to be “checked” and a staff member comes and goes through what you have/what you’ve paid for (thus stopping, or at least deterring, theft). I’ve been using the system for several years now (and been “checked” once) — and I’ve certainly not noticed a reduction in staff.

    At another store I’ve been frustrated time and again by joining a queue and seeing people in other queues processed faster.

    Great perspective! Thanks for giving the “other side”. -rc

  18. The only time I have ever been in a casino was in Reno. I played the slots and came away $400.00 richer than when I went in. It was the last time I was in a casino as well. You know “Quit while you’re ahead”. I do not like the self check outs at stores, they never work right for me and I am always having to have the assistant working on getting it straight. I enjoy the attention I receive from the attendants and clerks. It is the human touch that makes shopping fun. I really enjoy talking to clerks as you never know what you might learn.

  19. Although I sometimes use self-checkout when I am only picking up a few things, I much prefer an actual human staffed checkout. Not only that, but my mother would be unable to shop at all without assistance. She is blind, and has mobility issues.

    Our local grocery store allows her to call in, give a list of what she wants to purchase and all I have to do is go in, pay for it for her and pick it up. They get everything ready to go before I even arrive.

    Our local Walmart has an excellent service in which one of their customer service reps will help her into a push wheel chair with a basket, and take her around the store helping her shop. If she needs more room than is in the chair’s basket, she calls for a second person to bring a cart and both of them help her till her shopping is done. They then help her to my car, unload her groceries, and let us be on our way. This allows me to do my own grocery shopping without worrying about mixing up our grocery order and without exhausting me to the point I have trouble getting her and her stuff unloaded at home. It seriously makes my life much easier.

    These two stores are the only local ones I have found with such assistance programs for the blind and physically handicapped. And none of it would be available if everything was automated. I frequently send compliments to the corporate headquarters of Walmart about the local customer service, and tell the manager of the local grocery store how much I appreciate the service they provide. I figure compliments do two things, let people know you appreciate their services, and let the management know that the service is being used and is needed.

  20. “But once we have all the people replaced with machines, will the now-unemployed masses be able to afford to buy anything?”

    Yeah, via UBI (Universal Basic Income). We’re getting to a point with automation and globalization where that may be necessary.

    • I strongly suspect Gary in California is right. We’re either going to have to have a guaranteed minimum income or I think there’s going to be a societal collapse, probably within my lifetime. This isn’t a case of buggy whip makers going out of business while many new fields open up. Current automation trends are eliminating more jobs than are being created to do things like create the automation.

      That being said, I think the attitudes about self-checkout lines are a bit silly. First, there’s few to no jobs actually being lost. There wouldn’t be four to eight cashiers there if there weren’t the self-checkout lines. There’d be one or two in addition to the ones already manning lines, which guess what, are still being employed to help people/take coupons/deter theft/etc. The self-checkout lines improve service for people like me that aren’t scared of them. Rather than having to wait in line, I can go to an open self-checkout lane and be done, often before I’d have even made it to the register. Produce isn’t a problem — most have a sticker or tag with the code attached, and having to look up an occasional item by name isn’t a big deal (as a side note, my local grocery store now gets after the checkers if they just memorize produce codes — they insist on having them scan the stupid little UPCs whenever possible. Unfortunately, between the size and the curved shapes of most produce, those UPCs rarely work, yet the workers get in trouble for not scanning them. Basically, there’s very little speed difference these days, since I don’t have a supervisor getting after me if I just enter #4011 for bananas rather than take the time to try to scan the sticker).

      On another note, checkers aren’t going to be eliminated anytime soon from any stores that care about getting government money. WIC is simply not set up to be scanned by the customer and is very unlikely to ever be in that positions. Given that approximately half of women and children in this country end up on the WIC program at some point, that’s a huge market to just turn away in the cut-throat grocery business.

  21. The only places i see the non dealer card games full most of the time are in states that ban table games.

    Ah… there’s the driver of the technology! -rc

  22. I make a point of not using a self checkout register (whenever possible). Yes, human interaction is good and necessary. But I feel that by going to a human cashier, I am helping people keep their jobs. And if the lines are too long because the store is trying to save money by not having enough people at the cash registers, I complain to the manager.

  23. Like the other commenter above, I have severe social anxiety. I try to do my grocery shopping on the days when I have the energy and “spoons” (the spoon theory of disability) to do it all at once. But life doesn’t work that way and sometimes I have to go on a day when I just really can’t deal with human interaction at the level expected with a checkout person. On those days, self checkout is a godsend.

    And another commenter made a good point. If you take out those 4 or 6 or 8 self checkout lines, they’re going to be replaced with two checkers, if you’re lucky.

  24. The supermarket we use had scanners you could pick up when you entered the store. You just scanned things as you put them in your cart, then when you got to the checkout, you just bagged your purchases and paid what the scanned amount was. The problem with it, was that YOU were doing all the work with no benefit — there was no discount for doing all the scanning. They also have the self-checkout lines where you can scan your items, usually needing help for produce, but again with no incentive other than maybe a bit faster if you only have a few items. So, we stay away from that ‘convenience’, get to chat with the person at the cash register, get our purchases bagged the way we want them, and the bagger even puts the bags in the cart for us. Now, that’s service that makes shopping less of a chore.

  25. I worked for the gaming industry for seven years in a state where live cards and dice are not allowed unless the casino is on the water (i.e., a riverboat). As some other commenters have pointed out, the automated blackjack tables (and craps, roulette, etc.) have been around for at least a decade, so there’s no “testing” going on anymore — they’re here to stay, and in some places are the only option, like the land-based casino where I worked. It did have some hybrid digital tables that had an attendant that would take your money, hand you your printed tickets, and give you high-fives when you were dealt a blackjack, but these attendants weren’t paid anything near what a live dealer would make.

  26. The move to automation wherein management decisions are made based on the concept of “if it can be done, it should be done” inevitably leads to dissatisfied consumers until, over time, the vast majority of consumers have accepted the lower standards of service and don’t pay attention to the time it takes or the actual prices charged. Plus, the increase in automation is tied to the minimum wage issue, compounding the pressure on politicians to do something, Inevitably the something done addresses the symptoms, not the problems because actually identifying and solving a problem is too hard, generally requiring knowledge in the arcane subjects of economics, science, math, and/or logic.

    Understanding basic economic laws isn’t really that hard if you aren’t intimidated by the requirement of thinking and understanding. Common sense isn’t so common these days and the things that people know for sure that just ain’t so are overwhelming the actual facts.

    What seems to be overlooked or deemed irrelevant is the obvious: Raising the minimum wage also affects the prices of those goods and services provided by minimum wage workers, a lot of which is consumed by low income people. Even after increasing automation and installing self-service terminals fast food, *-Mart, food processors, food stores, etc. all need employees and must raise prices accordingly. For those who are still employed, purchasing power is not significantly increased and, since societal support benefits generally do not have ramps away from dependence, a raise in income may produce a significant net loss in total family income and benefit availability (child care, health care, etc.).

    Politicians love to proclaim ideas that sound good but have no sound basis in practical logic. But since logic, reason, analysis and objectivity are no longer taught or recognized as positive assessment tools it is becoming more and more acceptable to act as if the ideal exists and the future is full of sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.

  27. After wading through all of the above I realized very few had anything constructive to say about the automation of services in whatever area; mostly they sounded off their own opinions and recycled what they THINK will be the results.

    Only one man bothered to ask the person most affected, a service provider, what he thought and why; only one other tried to apply economics to the question.

    I am little better. While I do not like automation and have managed to avoid/evade most of it, I know little about it except this: I was always told that automation is MORE expensive than manpower, not less. If that is so then the real problem is not the minimum wage.

    So what is it?

    I also think we all have an underlying fear that we will be forced to use automated services whether we find it acceptable or not. Just remember this: if you USE it, YOU are accepting it!

  28. There are advantages to the self-checkouts, in my opinion. I’ll use my local Walmart as an example, since they only added self-checkouts a few months ago. We now have 8 ‘express’ lanes open — with one staff member always on duty, overseeing the registers and helping people who had problems. Previously, this would have meant there was ONE express lane open, with that same person facing a long line of frustrated shoppers.

    I see that as a great benefit. The store was only going to have that one person working express anyway, but now they can send through 8 people at a time. I use both … sometimes I want the speed of self-checkout. Sometimes I prefer to let someone else do the bagging and say hi. There is a place for both though. I’m not seeing them REPLACING people at registers so much as allowing one worker to oversee a much greater throughput than they could accomplish on their own.

    Now, computerized blackjack … nuh-uh. That’s just wrong. The dealer is one of the key parts of a card game, even if it’s a low stakes table.

    I definitely agree there are pros to go with the cons. But Walmart is among the chains wanting to do away with “all” checkers. -rc

  29. Automation is a “No Brainer” when government sticks it nose where it has no business and decries that an employer must pay $15 and hour for a job that only returns $8 value to the company. Then add in the requirement for it to also provide health insurance, paid holidays, paid vacation, paid family leave, etc. it is the government that is destroying these jobs.

  30. In 2001, when I was celebrating a significant anniversary with a long-term employer, I got an email from the CEO, who congratulated me on 20 years and invited me to pick out a suitable gift from a gift catalog. The email was signed “Lew”, but it was addressed to “Dear Robert” (my first name) and the From address was an automail address, not Lew’s address. The gift catalog was online, and I merely had to point and click to choose my gift. After I hit the Submit button, robotic fork lift in a computerized warehouse pulled my gift from the rack and laid it on a conveyor belt, where barcode scanners and inkjet printers prepared the package for shipping. The only human interaction I had to celebrate my anniversary was (sort of) with the UPS driver, who laid the package on my doorstep, rang the doorbell, and then climbed back into his truck and waved at me as he drove away.

    I’m sure you were suitably touched. -rc

    • How sad! It reads like a Sci-Fi nightmare from the ’50s. Hope you’ve had better luck since then… and got a copy of The Incredibles! Cheers!

  31. Personally, I avoid the one local grocery store without self checkout. I don’t enjoy making small talk and would rather use self checkout. I don’t mind others using a clerk, but I prefer having the option to do it myself.

  32. My mum use to work in a factory that paid very little, with no benefits and not too long ago we did a tour of a factory that was similar to where she worked. All the jobs she used to do were now automated. I asked if she thought it was unfair that people like her can no longer make a living from the jobs that are now automated. She actually laughed at me, said it was the best thing that could have happened to factories because her reality was that the money she made barely covered expenses (a lot of it was eaten by cost of transport to place of employment), and the lack of dignity in the work conditions made being employed unattractive. Her argument based on her experiences was if a job devalues people then it may as well be automated if it can be because life was not improved by being employed in that job.

    Society does seems to push this idea that being employed is a sort of pinnacle achievement and you should just be grateful for a job but listening to my mum’s experiences it does make think that being employed at any cost could be just as bad as being unemployed in which case is it so bad those type of jobs end up automated?

    A good question. And I like your mom’s attitude. -rc

  33. I had an interesting experience in Europe this summer that points out one of the other advantages that automated checkouts can bring to the table over humans. Language. I was in France and speak about 20 French words. My easiest encounters were purchasing subway tickets, paying for my parking lot ticket and ordering a Big Mac at McDonalds (don’t judge — my son wanted one). All of those were handled by the automated machines and being in Europe, they offered a choice of languages and I was able to select English. Even though you have to drag me into a McDonalds in the US, that was one of the more surprising experiences. I initially walked up to the counter like I have done in the US and asked if she spoke English and she responded that she didn’t but pointed over to about 5 terminals where everyone was placing their orders. She was simply the cashier and helped hand out the meals when they were ready. I walked over to one of the terminals and selected English and very quickly was able to specify the order the way my son wanted it. When I was done, I specified cash and it printed out a ticket, which I then took back to the woman at the counter and handed the ticket over with a few Euros and she handed me the change. Still had to deal with some humans but the computers were able to simplify the process for both of us. My wife and I had just left another shop where we had purchased quiches for ourselves and that waitress spoke no English so the ordering process was a lot of pointing and guessing what the other person was trying to say. Far more difficult than it was at the McDonalds.

    At some point, the customer is the one who is paying the employee, not the owner of the business. They are simply taking what the customer is paying them and passing it onto the employee. We either pay by having to stand in line longer or by paying higher prices so that they can afford to hire more workers. In restaurants, terminals like this are far less than a human cashier and even in low wage jobs like this, mean that the owner can keep the prices to the customers lower. We have been watching this for years, just no one called it automation. There are dozens of items in every restaurant that allows them to increase efficiencies which allows them to make the food faster and cheaper. The big “automated” mixer allows the cook to put a large amount of food in the bowl and let it get processed while they go on to other work. Back in the 1920’s someone probably manually mixed all of that food. No one complained when that job was replaced by a mixer.

    Even when there are higher cost automated devices like the gas pumps, over time, they will save the cost of more than a few employees and allow me to pay less for my gas. I’ll admit to only having one data point and it is where I’m getting these numbers. About 15 years ago, my father was opening a convenience store that had 8 automated gas pumps out front. He told me they cost about $5000 each. That means that he paid roughly $40000 so that customers could pay at the pump. At first I thought there was no way to get that money back, but I guarantee he was able to recoup that investment within a year. The store was busy enough that he would have had to have had another cashier just to handle the transactions for the gas pumps. He was probably paying the cashiers about $10/hour and was open 18 hours/day. Just the wages, not including taxes on the wages and other benefits, would have cost him $65700 year. Even if he only had it staffed 10-12 hours/day he would have made back his investment in two years. He sold it a few years later and that owner has already replaced the pumps twice since they bought it 9 years ago.

    Remember that when you think that automation costs more, most of the machines can usually work 24 hours/day every day of the week with no days off. Those gas pumps would continue to allow customers to buy gas at 3:00am on Christmas morning. His customer was happy to be able to do it at an off hour. The employee he didn’t have to hire wasn’t sitting there grumbling about working those obscene hours for next to nothing. The gas pump just processed the sale and made everyone happy.


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