Humans 1, Robots 0

Published on October 7, 2013
by Farhad Manjoo

Computers seem to be replacing humans across many industries, and we’re all getting very nervous.

But if you want some reason for optimism, visit your local supermarket. See that self-checkout machine? It doesn’t hold a candle to the humans — and its deficiencies neatly illustrate the limits of computers’ abilities to mimic human skills.

The human supermarket checker is superior to the self-checkout machine in almost every way. The human is faster. The human has a more pleasing, less buggy interface. The human doesn’t expect me to remember or look up codes for produce, she bags my groceries, and unlike the machine, she isn’t on hair-trigger alert for any sign that I might be trying to steal toilet paper. Best of all, the human does all the work while I’m allowed to stand there and stupidly stare at my phone, which is my natural state of being.

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