It was an especially busy day in the warehouse store, with long lines of people waiting to have a real person check them out so they could leave. Not wanting to lose more time, my wife saw an opening in the corner of the checkout labyrinth.

We’d never tried to use the self-checkout counter before because we’d never minded waiting in line behind people who looked like they were getting ready for the apocalypse. I remember seeing two men drag flat carts filled with toilet tissue and paper towels.

This could be the day we accepted the reality of artificial intelligence and joined those of us who would rather push buttons than talk to a real person.

We took the plunge. My wife gave me her card, at which time I scanned it under what looked like a laser above and below square pieces of glass. The machine lit up and welcomed us into the store. Since I didn’t want to argue with it by reminding it we were leaving the store, I just attempted to follow its instructions.

Before I even started, a deep woman’s voice told me to take all items off the receiving belt that was beside the eye of the monster. I then did something rather foolish. I talked to the machine and told “her” that I had nothing on the belt. A few seconds later, she repeated herself, restating that in order to purchase any products, I had to vacate the belt. Looking around for some help, I noticed a young man waiting in line behind me carrying a rather large bag of potato chips. He looked annoyed.
The machine then lit a large rectangular red sign that was held high by a black pole. It blinked on and off, requesting that someone who had a clue as to how to work the machine or fix me come to the station.

We waited. No one came. I looked back at the young man who was waiting to leave the store with his bag of chips, and it was obvious he was getting more exasperated. Maybe I should buy his chips and send him on his way, but since I’d already inserted the card into the machine and was told to empty what I didn’t put on the belt, I found that possibility not to be a credible one.

Discovering that this new artificial intelligence was more of a challenge than a convenience, I started to scan my first item. The voice again chided me that I should remove all items from the belt. I asked my wife if we really needed the 10-pound box of peanuts, and she agreed that we should surrender and roll our cart away from where we were and go home. But before we left, I asked the man with the chips if I could have one.


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