Domo Arigato, Mr. Robotoadmin
Imagine grocery shopping with your child; they run around to a neighboring aisle and you hear them talking to what seems to be an exuberant clerk. Ninety-nine percent of the time you would scurry around the corner and see flesh, blood, and a color clashing uniform, hopefully about to hand you a slice of Land O’Lakes American Cheese cut just the way you like it. If you were a recent customer in Scotland’s supermarket Margiotta this may have not been the case. The grocer was chosen by the British Broadcasting Corporation to test run Heriot-Watt University’s newest innovation, Fabio, the hard working, real-time question answering robot and film his interactions for their show Six Robots and Us. Fabio was designed to answer questions using technology similar to that of Amazon’s Alexa and communicate with those around him while he roamed the store. For the first time not only could the grocer’s checkout be automated, but now the greeter, sample-sharer, and some floor personnel could be too.
At first, his responses were as silky smooth as his namesake’s hair. To the elderly he was the greatest thing since the store brought on board sliced bread. He filled children’s eyes up with amazement, showing them the future is now. Fabio was welcoming guests faster than ever and even high-fived some. Then quickly the difference between his cold metal exterior and a warm human heart became more glaring. He began creepily greeting some customers with “Hello gorgeous”, a line pulled from any 1950’s mob movie. When customers asked where specific items were located, a task his developers said he could help with, Fabio would give obvious answers. No paying customer needed to hear that beer was in the alcohol section or that milk would be located in the fridge. Once staff got old with his less than helpful responses, Fabio was exiled to sausage duty. All the robot had to do was be in a designated area and hold free samples of sausages. Easy-peasy one would think. After a trial, the store owner’s noticed that customers actively avoided the sausage stand whenever Fabio was present. When a human was serving the savory snacks, 12 customers would snag a sample every 15 minutes; with Fabio roughly only 2 customers would.
With heavy hearts, the owners of Margiotta had to relinquish their new AI employee after realizing he was causing more harm than good. We are unsure if Fabio gets to collect unemployment or how Margiotta will claim the labor hours when paying taxes. The Lab World Group does know two things though; all calls and emails will be answered here by a friendly human who will go out of their way to accommodate your every need and sadly, we do not have a sausage stand on site for our very own Fabio to work at. Until Fabio can sell a chiller confidently or fix any our customer’s retired equipment, he will remain in Scotland.