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Robot creep

Written By: - Date published: 7:10 am, September 26th, 2019 - 23 comments
Categories: science, surveillance - Tags: , ,

A very large supermarket chain in the US has installed in-store robots. The purpose of the robots is apparently not to replace workers, or spot shoplifters, or surveil shoppers for commerce, but to keep an eye out for spills and other hazards in the aisles. That’s right, the conglomerate spent $36,000 per robot to be able to tell shoppers that something was on the floor. Tui award right there. Not so much slippery floor as slippery slope.


Turns out the parent company does have some other plans,

Additionally, data gathered during the robots’ continuous store loops can be extended easily to address out-of-stock, planogram compliance and price integrity issues. What’s more, the results of Marty’s constant data capture can be delivered on-demand as custom reports or dashboards, as well as ingested seamlessly into existing operational, supply chain and ERP systems for actionable business insights.

I’ll take that to mean eventual constant seamless ingestion of personal data from phones, credit cards and facial recognition. No-one seems to know what is currently happening with images of customers.

The really depressing thing here, as in Marvin level depressing, is that when I searched twitter to see all the angry, witty and sarcastic critiques, there were none. The twitter was either short, uncritical news articles, or bemused shoppers.

It reminded me of what I hear from folk living in the US: the scarey thing about the encroaching proto-fascism is just how quickly people get used to things like locking immigrant kids up in cages or blurring the lines on who is a US citizen. I guess it’s not surprising then that corporate America is rolling out the droids without anyone really batting an eyelid.

May as well prepare the next generation. Tech is cute, right?

Or not. I guess there will be new job creation in helping people adjust,




23 comments on “Robot creep ”

  1. Sanctuary 1

    The future of war…

  2. A 2

    * sigh * Americans. Inured to the robot invasion.

  3. lprent 3

    That last facebook in the post is about a post from a satire site. They also have a post about a Amish Dobergoat fighting ring being busted.

    This is the Dobergoat

    • Blazer 3.1

      It's a Dobernanny.

      • greywarshark 3.1.1

        Whatever there is nothing funny about that. If it was a clever piece of online falsification, it would be sick and indicate how empty the mind of tech people can be as to the misuse of their favourite obsession. If it is true then it is bad and to be feared, and the people who have brought it about also.

    • Stuart Munro. 3.2

      This should be the new Gnat mascot: it's stubborn, it's vicious, it's excessively concerned with dairy, and it's had cosmetic surgery on its ears.

  4. JohnP 4

    The creep of surveillance and data gathering tech into homes and everyday life is a real concern. There's startups out there focusing on number-plate recognition software that will tell the server at Maccas what your order is, or allow you to order without actually talking to anyone. Facial recognition software to identify valued customers. Innocent in context, but concerning when it comes to the other uses of this software.

    Once that becomes routine and normalised, it will end with criminalising those who don't automatically submit to having their face scanned and data gathered – like the bloke in London who got fined $180 dollars for simply pulling his shirt up as he walked past the Met Police testing their live facial recognition software.

    The privatisation of public space has been a big issue in major cities, but now we're looking at the datafication of public and private space – its somewhat akin to Borges' story about the map that was an exact replica of the kingdom it sought to represent.

    • greywarshark 4.1

      You have pinned the results of this all that I fear. I think about Dennis Potter's Cold Lazarus and the mindlessness of the humans caught up in their soulless technological world. It will squeeze the soul out of our lives, and drive us to form cults that have to defend ourselves against the tech people's incursion. John Wyndham has imagined that future, and also John Christopher.

      Here is Episode 1 of Cold Lazarus – I think 1-4 on youtube.

      John Christopher's The Tripods (It has been adapted to be very dramatic but the effects and machinery are good, and the story is relevant.)

      The Tripods Why was the tripods Cancelled?
      Due to a multitude of reasons, including high production costs and an anti-sci-fi campaign on BBC, series three of The Tripods series was never made. The decision to cancel the final series was made while the second series was still being filmed.

      Series Three | The Tripods Wiki | FANDOM powered by Wikiahttps://thetripods.fandom.com › wiki › Series_Three

      John Wyndham: (Note longer start than we have these days – 3mins in the story gets going.)
      1962 film version of The Day of the Triffids:


    • weka 4.2

      Not sure what's gone on in that UK story. He was fined for disorderly behaviour, but I'm guessing it was because he told the police to fuck off rather than that he covered half his face with his jumper.

      I agree what they're doing with the tech is a concern, and stopping someone who had covered their mouth and nose while walking down the street seems a good example of the problems with police culture in the UK.

      • Obtrectator 4.2.1

        "I'm guessing it was because he told the police to fuck off rather than that he covered half his face with his jumper."

        That's been my understanding of the incident too – getting sweary with the cops is seldom a good idea. (But what you're not told, of course, is how aggressive and provocative the boys in blue were.)

        One response I might have tried would have been: "Is this really gonna be worth all that paperwork?" Either that or do something really left field, like reciting Stanley Holloway monologues (I've got a dozen or more off pat).

  5. greywarshark 5

    Can someone start off a line of removable stickser that can be put up around the place (and don't think about whether they will cause litter as this is a greater cause) which will say something like :

    I want a person to help me please.

    And most people can carry a roll of these around with them and put them in appropriate places to get the point across.

    A world of us, for us, to share across the planet in reciprocity and goodwill.

  6. In the future I'd be okay with robots taking all the menial, hazardous and back breaking work off Humans if there are also plans to actively stimulate and engage those in their 'leisure time' and people are healthily compensated financially through a non penalising share of profits from companies that use mechanical replacements, perhaps through an ULWI – Universal living wage income.

    • weka 6.1

      I'd be ok with that, apart from the robot bit. Read too much science fiction. That's not distrust of tech, it's distrust of the humans that build and manage it.

      • The Al1en 6.1.1

        Yeah, wouldn't trust Skynet in charge, but factory automation should be okay. First red flag would be welding machines, sorters, lawn mowers and vacuum cleaners with built in machine guns and rocket launchers.

      • greywarshark 6.1.2

        That is working on the premise that the robots, IT are programmed by humans and aren't working on a program that allows decisions to be made using historic experience, until basically individually-controlling with certain parameters.

    • greywarshark 6.2

      All the above is propaganda puff put out to allay fears so that the different reality is established before comprehension sets in too late. All that argument has already been used to bring us to the present, there is total disruption of employment, wages and few jobs at the high end. At the low end is peasant labour to enable a living, and heaps of ordure on the heads of people who don't manage in this climate of endless poverty and change to look forward to. Plus climate change and politicians who could pass an old-style lie detector because they are so practised at obfuscation and cool duplicity.

      • The Al1en 6.2.1

        You're well over thinking things somewhat if you truly believe that a simple sentence I wrote on the fly about robots taking our jobs is "propaganda puff", though looking further in to that notion, I don't recall ever reading or hearing anything much like it before, and with certainty, not from the media or governmental sources. I may have subconsciously picked it up from Star trek, Asimov, Dick or other science fiction, and while that isn't necessarily a bad thing, I don't for one minute take it as a way of distorting comprehension of a reality yet to come by long dead writers.

        Perhaps if you write your points in a less hard to fathom style I'll have a better chance of actually understanding that what it is you're trying to say, because at present, your response to a bit of future wishful thinking leaves me questioning not only what you've written, but why.

  7. McFlock 7

    Actually, the facial recognition thing is already sorted by static cameras currently in supermarkets.They ID and track individuals without being obvious about it. A seven foot robot is a bit too obvious to not affect the observed party's behaviour.

    I'd say the robot is intended for what the article says, with limited expansion capabilities. The probable intention is to eventually have it stacking the shelves it's currently monitoring.

    • weka 7.1

      NZ supermarkets? What are they using facial recognition for?

      • The Al1en 7.1.1

        Making sure Sarah Lee, Pam and Uncle Ben don't go walkies?

      • McFlock 7.1.2

        Spotting trespassed people. At the moment.

        Basically, you have three main processes in a supermarket: store figures out what shit customers want (and how they can be persuaded to buy more of it), shelves are stocked with that shit, and customers buy that shit.

        Each main process has sub-processes, and one function that appears in each category is "profit protection": stopping wastage including the warehouse damaging or losing stuff, and stopping theft.

        So fixed cameras at intersections can track individuals, mostly to see where they stop and turn and roughly what they look at (figuring out what shit customers want). Cameras at choke-points like entrances can identify individuals, in the NZ case people trespassed (usually for shoplifting). Sales data can help figure out what items people like to buy together, and what people buy every trip (so you make them walk past other stuff that they might want to buy while they go to get the bread).

        Yon robot chappie wouldn't be much use tracking people, but can make sure the shelves are stocked, and stocked in such a way that customers are more likely to buy that shit.

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