One day last week I thought I’d get checked out faster at the grocery store by using the self-checkout lane.
Half way in the process the female computer voice demanded I put the scanned item in the bagging area. But since I had already done that I could not proceed without help from the human assistant. The human assistant was helping someone else at that moment - a lot - so I had to wait. And wait.
A few days later, I popped into my local home improvement store to make one purchase. It was early so no check out lanes were manned. Forced to use the self-check automated system I groaned, stepped up and pulled my item across the scanner. No go. The human assistant, a pleasant woman I’d guess to be in her mid to late fifties, came to my rescue. She discovered the bar code was obstructed by a plastic packaging band. She moved it over the scanner again, the screen went back to the beginning. She pressed the screen several times, then held the band away as she tried another pass. Success! As we waited for the machine to process my credit card I turned to her and said,
“You know, if you had been over there (pointing to the old-fashioned check out counter) we would be done by now and I would be on my way to my car. Instead, this new and improved system, that still needs a human to make it work, is actually slower and less efficient.”
She laughed and said, “Well these young managers come in and think it’s better.”
Standing so close I was compelled to put my hands on hers, folded at her waist. I looked her straight in the eyes and replied,
“They can’t replace humans, no matter how they try.”
She nodded in agreement and said, “Some things just don’t need to be improved.”
We connected as only humans can do in that tiny measurement of time.
A day later, in the afternoon, I was whizzing through the fast food lane for some salads at Wendy’s. At the first window the young man, taking my money, asked,
“Would you happen to be Parker’s grandmother?”
I beamed a surprised yes. He said he had been part of the fifth grade team at Parker’s elementary school that built the Chicken City parade float that I had directed. Then I sort of recognized him but, that was five years ago. Not wanting to slow up the fast food lane, he quickly remarked that he was graduating next year, I said wow-and-good-to-see-you as he handed me my change and I moved forward.
On the short drive home I admit I was a sudden mess of emotion. How many times have I been there done that? I recalled the tall young man who approached me years ago and introduced himself as one of my cub scouts from my son’s den.
Awash with all sorts of disconnected bits of memory that caused a strange welling up of fluid that threatened to make it difficult for me to see, I could not help but consider the odds of having met, at that place and time, that almost grown boy who remembered me and what a joyful nano second it had been.
I had already been mulling my next blog post about the downside to the growing love of AI and all things robotic based on my two experiences with self check out stations and somehow that encounter put it into a perspective I had not considered and it all clicked because it’s no secret that fast food companies are looking at replacing humans with computers.
When the young man handed me my change, for one millisecond, we connected, hand to hand, fingers to fingers. I once read that when humans touch as in a hand shake, there is a chemical response in the body - endorphins release. Humans touching humans, even if just eye contact, or voice to ear, enforces what computers or artificial intelligence can never reproduce. That spark of a living, breathing human being, so wonderfully made by the Great Creator, nothing can or will ever replace. Serendipity in human contact adds to us in ways no computer can ever do.
There is a great evil working overtime now, seeking to destroy God’s great creation in every way possible. Imitation is not perfection though. Nothing can replace the small everyday experiences of human touch. Nothing. And even if by a miracle that could happen someday, what would be the point? Perfection by whose definition?
Is it not ironic that we are in a constant quest of improving, redesigning, perfecting in ways that are determined to replace us instead of just putting a bit more effort in ourselves, the original perfect design?
(Philippians 3:12) Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus. (3:13) Brethren, I could not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing [I do], forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, (3:14) I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.