Writer and The Robot

Between The Bridges
Typography

When writing an article for any publication, the author has only one goal in mind—to create an inviting entry point into the story that follows. Katie McFadden, our acclaimed local RT writer and editor, always displays a mastery of the written word in her articles with her use of colloquial and everyday language you can really sink your literary fangs into. 

Katie's lead sentence to her most recent article in the July 25, 2019 edition of the RT ("Stop and Shoppers, Meet Marty") was no exception.  Katie's lead sentence "Danger Will Robinson, Danger!  Cleanup in aisle five" grabbed me right away as I was immediately curious as to what the robot's iconic spoken warning to young Will Robinson from the 1960's TV series Lost in Space had to do with the 6-foot plastic "Gumby" with large jiggly eyes pictured prominently at the top of the story on page 12. 

Reading on, I discovered that "Marty" is a mobile robotic assistant being used to roam the store and identify slip hazards, such as liquid, powder and bulk food spills, and report them via the public address system, ostensibly to free up associates who can now spend more time serving customers. I also found Katie's descriptions of various store customers' accounts of their individual interactions with "Marty" enlightening.  Some were amused, some annoyed, and some found the 6-foot-tall Gumby looking can on wheels downright "creepy."

Apparently, one conspiracy minded customer, apparently an avid fan of Abbie Hoffman's 1970 publication "Steal This Book," was completely leery of this whole robotic assistant thing and complained, "How do we truly know what its true purpose is, as no one bothered to introduce this gadget to the customers? For all I know, it's scanning me to see if I have stolen something or have a weapon."  When I read that last customer's complaint, all I could think of was that Albert Einstein was right when he asserted that "You cannot be more artificially intelligent than naturally stupid." Of course, on the other hand, this dim bulb may have simply been annoyed that "Marty" has thrown a wrench into his/her plans to write his/her own book, "Steal this Iceberg Lettuce."

I was really surprised that more questions were not raised regarding this brave new supermarket world employee regarding Gumby's gender? In this day and age, we cannot assume that it is male just because its name is Marty, can we? Personally I would feel very uncomfortable addressing "Marty" without first knowing what "Marty's" preferred pronoun is...he, she, it, cis, pan, bi, ze, hir, etc. After all, if it turns out that this mobile tin can is a product of male chauvinist genderphobic racism, I am sure none of us would lend neither our imprimatur nor business to an establishment guilty of exploiting an artificial intelligence! 

Of course, "Marty's" presence in the store also begs the question—will jobs be lost to this new type of automation? I don't think "Marty" is a clear and present danger to employee job security at the moment. It is really not doing much of anything besides getting in the way, paging the store nearly constantly, over the smallest things—like a stem from a bunch of grapes or a youngster in damp camp clothing—and it will go around in circles until an employee comes to clean the “hazard” up.

Today "Marty" is little more than a glorified Roomba and he/she/it doesn’t even vacuum. But what about tomorrow? I personally believe Katie's lead sentence "Danger Will Robinson, Danger!" will prove prescient and, as such, I leave you all with the old joke. "A robot walks into a bar, lays down some cash and orders a drink and is told by the bartender, 'Hey we don't serve robots!' to which the robot replies, 'Oh, but someday you will!'"  

Again, kudos to Katie McFadden for giving all of us who are banging on, many french fries short of a happy meal, a great deal to think about.

Broad Channel, why would anyone want to live anywhere else?

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