Commentary: In world of artificial intelligence, I’ll be simply out of luck

It’s time for counseling again.

This time group counseling.

Because while my relationship problem once was limited to the one woman who lives inside the self-checkout machine in the grocery I most often go to, it’s now spread to almost every woman inside every self-checkout machine I find.


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So far as I know, no men have been put into the machines, which I see it as an attempt to keep someone from punching out the machines and winning damages not only for the broken and bloodied fist but for severe mental cruelty they inflict.

As I’ve mentioned in this space before, the number one issue I have with my most significant scanning partner is bickering.

As soon as I swipe my first card, she butters me up by calling me a valued person. Then 15 seconds later, she’s harping on me for not putting an item in the bagging area.

People once gave me funny looks when I said things to the machine like “I’ve already put it there, dear!”

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Now, I get nodding heads and get the occasional “Right on!”

Thus emboldened, on my last trip to the grocery, after her third unnecessary reminder about putting something in the “bagging area,” I’d had it. I canceled my transaction, turned my back on her and walked over to another machine.

Well, there she was again. Déjà vu all over again but worse. The most annoying thing: When she called me a “valued customer” this time, she all but spit afterwards.

I suppose it’s possible she was just having a bad day. I mean, she and all the other ladies in scanners are trapped beneath the glass ceilings of the machines they’re in with no chance for advancement.

As I told the counsellor, I’m partly to blame, too. Because after I scan my first item, she always politely asks me to scan in my store card.

Do I scan it? No, even though it would be the civil thing to do.

Why? Because I don’t have to.

With our relationship on the virtual rocks, Mr. Nice Guy has left the building.

Of course, she gets back at me for that, too. When I finally do scan my customer card midway through the visit, there’s not a peep about being a “valued customer.” It’s the full on silent treatment.

Other times, she just shuts down all together. She won’t take my coupons. She won’t let me go back to the last screen. She just posts a note that says “assistance is on the way.” That means “Talk to the digital hand.”

My guess is that as time goes on, the machines get smarter, and artificial intelligence really takes over, all of this will get worse, and for one essential reason: Unlike decent millennials, who use spare moments at work to communicate via social media, AI employees are always on the job.

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And, in the end, there’s nothing that ruins a relationship like truth.

Once my grocery scanner connects with other machines it will see I’m not using all the savings tools that are available and she can say stuff like this: “Valued customer: Had you taken full advantage of your gas discount points, you could have saved $17.47 in transportation costs to and from our counseling appointments. Had you done so, we might not have as many conflicts in our relationship.”

At this point, I’ll feel like the John Belushi character in Blues Brothers kneeling in the sewer water while Carrie Fisher is pointing a machine gun at him. So I’ll mumble some implausible like, “Oh, honey, my relationship with you is based on more than money.”

And in the next counseling session, she’ll drop the hammer. “One of my colleagues in IT told me the history of your card indicates you have been having relationships with other scanners, violating the special nature of our relationship.”

She’ll then provide documentation with a printout she presents to the counselor.

It’s when she passes the documents over the counselor’s eyes that I’ll realize they are being scanned. I’ll realize that what looks like a human counselor is an AI counselor, the only sort approved by my health care plan.

And I’ll further realize that the woman in the scanner with whom I was having trouble relationships has forwarded my grocery receipts to the insurance company, which has been using my food purchases to “adjust” my premiums based on my diet.

And in the AI world, as in the employee benefits world, “adjusting” always means it will cost more.

I fear that in the AI world, I’ll be SOL, simply out of luck.

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