Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Issues With Self Check -- Why Machines Can't Replace People

   "Can you do this for me? Can you ring this up?" This is the most common question that I get asked when I am working the self check station at my work. Despite the fact that the sign clearly states Self Check, there will undoubtedly be someone who wants to cut the lines, but not do the work. Another thing that will undoubtedly happen? Someone with a full cart load of groceries will attempt to come through the self check area, despite the fact that the sign above the lanes clearly states "About 15 items." $300 dollars worth of groceries being rang up on machines that are only programmed to deal with small orders is never a good thing, but one thing that working with the public has taught me is this: people can't read. Can't, won't, same difference, and all this not reading and $300 orders boils down to one fact: the self check attendant is going to have to spend an ungodly amount of time trying to get the machine that is going bat-shit to calm down. Some of our attendants are better at this than others; myself, I am no machine whisperer: be prepared to wait.
   Which brings me to today's issue. Will self check ever replace human cashiers? I am sure that there are companies that are more than willing to attempt this replacement, after all, machines aren't going to cry for a living wage. Machines don't care about being fairly compensated for the work that they do, nor do they care about benefits such as sick pay, retirement, and health insurance. I suppose that might look good to some companies. Maybe even all companies.
   Yet as a person who has had to sit attendant on these machines, I promise you - this is a bad deal. Machines are only as smart as the people using them. So while there are some people who can get themselves in and out with no issues, there are (at the very least) an equal amount of people who manage to screw everything the hell up, so that the attendant has to come over and try his/her best to figure out what the hell that person was doing in order to fix the problem. And I have come across some insanely stupid mistakes. Mistakes so stupid that we've just had to cancel the entire thing, and I've had to take them to a checker. Machines do not understand people, so when you do something that makes absolutely no sense what-so-ever, the machines isn't going to go, "Oh! You're trying to do this! Let me fix that for you." You know what you need for that type of comprehension? A person.
   Another things that machines can't really handle? Theft. Oh, those machines have a few safeguards built in. They can detect if someone is putting more weight in the bagging area than equals the weight of items scanned, but the machine can't see if you have left things in the cart or basket. The machine can't see that you are using the wrong Product Look-Up codes (PLUs). That is one of the many reasons that there is a bored little attendant sitting at her own screen, watching everything you do, which all pops up on the master screen in front of her. You would also be surprised, while we are talking illicit goings-ons, about how many kids think that they can go buy alcohol through the self check lanes. Never fails, "You still card me in self check?" Yes, yes we do.
   And while you don't have to pay a self check machine sick pay, I assure you that machines do break down; they break down a lot. They break down when people attempt to use them like coin stars, jamming coins in faster than the machines can handle, they break down when someone's little girl decides that dancing on the bagging area (which is a computerized scale system) is a good idea, they break down when there is a glitch in the programming, they break down for no fathomable reason at all, and while you don't have to pay these broken hunks of metal, chips, and wires sick pay, you do have to pay someone to come fix them. That's not really a money saver, there.
   I am not saying that self check is a completely terrible idea. Our store is crowded; we always have lines. In our store, self check is used as a glorified express lane (about 15 items please) and I can see that this has helped. When I am working the checkstands, there are a lot less people complaining about the lines because the ones that used to do that were usually the ones with three items, having to wait behind someone with two full carts. We get all manner of complicated orders as well, WIC, tax exempt, extremely large orders for day cares and assisted living homes, and I can see a person with three items not wanting to stand behind this. Self check, in our store, has alleviated some of this, but what I am saying is this: machines are not yet capable of replacing an actual person. Personally, I have my doubts that they will ever be, but if they do, that will be a sad, sad day. I don't understand people wishing to render other people obsolete. But regardless, all I know is this, next time you are smirking at a person who is asking for a fair wage, thinking that they will be replaced by machines, just remember, if that day ever comes, you are going to be spending a long, long time standing in line behind all the WIC orders, all the three cart orders, all the tax exempt, all the people who don't mix well with technology. I've worked these machines, and I know that these machines cannot handle many of the orders that I still take in a checkstand. 

No comments:

Post a Comment