The point is not that they are stupid, its that they are much stupider
about aesthetic realities than quantitative measurements, which should be
or *at least could be* be a clue that there is much more of a difference
between mathematical theory and experienced presence than Comp can possibly
consider. This is not generalized from a particular case, it is a pattern
which I have seen to be common to all cases, and I think that it is
possible to understand that pattern without it being the product of any
phobia or bias. I would love computers to be smarter than living organisms,
and in some way, they are, but in other ways, it appears that they will
never be, and for very good reasons.
On Wednesday, October 9, 2013 3:37:15 AM UTC-4, Bruno Marchal wrote:
> >> *Humans 1, Robots 0*
> >> Cashiers Trump Self-Checkout Machines at the Grocery Store
> >> 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.
> >> There is only one problem with human checkers: They're in short
> >> supply. At
> >> my neighborhood big-box suburban supermarket, the lines for human
> >> checkers
> >> are often three or four deep, while the self-checkout queue is
> >> usually
> >> sparse. Customers who are new to self-checkout might take their
> >> short lines
> >> to mean that the machines are more efficient than the humans, but
> >> that
> >> would be a gross misunderstanding.
> >> As far as I can tell, the self-checkout lines are short only
> >> because the
> >> machines aren't very good.
> >> They work well enough in a pinch--when you want to check out just a
> >> handful
> >> of items, when you don't have much produce, when you aren't loaded
> >> down
> >> with coupons. But for any standard order, they're a big pain.
> >> Perversely,
> >> then, self-checkout machines' shortcomings are their best feature:
> >> because
> >> they're useless for most orders, their lines are shorter, making the
> >> machines seem faster than humans.
> >> In most instances where I'm presented with a machine instead of a
> >> human, I
> >> rejoice. I prefer an ATM to a flesh-and-blood banker, and I find
> >> airport
> >> check-in machines more efficient than the unsmiling guy at the
> >> desk. But
> >> both these tasks--along with more routine computerized skills like
> >> robotic
> >> assembly lines--share a common feature: They're very narrow,
> >> specific,
> >> repeatable problems, ones that require little physical labor and
> >> not much
> >> cognitive flexibility.
> >> Supermarket checkout--a low-wage job that doesn't require much
> >> training--sounds like it should be similarly vulnerable to robotic
> >> invasion.
> >> But it turns out that checking out groceries requires just enough
> >> mental-processing skills to be a prohibitive challenge for
> >> computers. In
> >> that way, supermarket checkout represents a class of jobs that
> >> computers
> >> can't yet match because, for now, they're just not very good
> >> substituting
> >> key human abilities.
> >> What's so cognitively demanding about supermarket checkout? I spoke
> >> to
> >> several former checkout people, and they all pointed to the same
> >> skill:
> >> Identifying fruits and vegetables. Some supermarket produce is
> >> tagged with
> >> small stickers carrying product-lookup codes, but a lot of stuff
> >> isn't.
> >> It's the human checker's job to tell the difference between green
> >> leaf
> >> lettuce and green bell peppers, and then to remember the proper code.
> >> "It took me about three or four weeks to get to the point where I
> >> wouldn't
> >> have to look up most items that came by," said Sam Orme, a 30-year-
> >> old grad
> >> student who worked as a checker when he was a teenager.
> >> Another one-time checker, Ken Haskell, explained that even after
> >> months of
> >> doing the job, he would often get stumped. "Every once in a while
> >> I'd get a
> >> papaya or a mango and I'd have to reach for the book," he said.
> >> In a recent research paper called "Dancing With Robots," the
> >> economists
> >> Frank Levy and Richard Murnane point out that computers replace human
> >> workers only when machines meet two key conditions. First, the
> >> information
> >> necessary to carry out the task must be put in a form that
> >> computers can
> >> understand, and second, the job must be routine enough that it can be
> >> expressed in a series of rules.
> >> Supermarket checkout machines meet the second of these conditions,
> >> but they
> >> fail on the first. They lack proper information to do the job a
> >> human would
> >> do. To put it another way: They can't tell shiitakes from Shinola.
> >> Instead
> >> of identifying your produce, the machine asks you, the customer, to
> >> type in
> >> a code for every leafy green in your cart. Many times you'll have
> >> to look
> >> up the code in an on-screen directory. If a human checker asked you
> >> to
> >> remind him what that bunch of the oblong yellow fruit in your
> >> basket was,
> >> you'd ask to see his boss.
> >> This deficiency extends far beyond the checkout lane.
> >> "In the '60s people assumed you'd be reading X-rays and CT scans by
> >> computers within years," Mr. Levy said. "But it's nowhere near
> >> anything
> >> like that. You have certain computerized enhancements for simple
> >> images,
> >> but nothing like a real CT scan can be read by a computer--and the
> >> same
> >> thing would be true trying to separate arugula from everything else."
> >> You could imagine certain ways to make the identification process
> >> easier
> >> for supermarket computers. For example, we could tag every produce
> >> item
> >> with an electronic identification tag. But that would be an enormous
> >> infrastructural challenge for a dubious return.
> >> A representative for NCR, the world's largest self-checkout vendor,
> >> pointed
> >> me to a company-sponsored survey that shows that customers believe
> >> self-checkout systems are faster than cashier lanes. But I doubt
> >> those
> >> perceptions. When you actually watch self-checkout lanes matched up
> >> against
> >> cashiers, the cashiers come out significantly faster--read this
> >> Ph.D. thesis
> >> for proof, or go to your local store and marvel at how speedy the
> >> humans
> >> are.
> >> Can computers beat them? Perhaps one day, but I doubt it will be
> >> soon. And
> >> that gets to the other issue: Unless the store gives me an explicit
> >> price
> >> break for scanning my stuff, why, exactly, should I be rejoicing
> >> about
> >> doing more work?
> >> A lot of what I am always talking about is in there...computers don't
> >> understand produce because they have no aesthetic sensibility. A
> >> mechanical
> >> description of a function is not the same thing as participating in
> >> an
> >> experience.
> >> Craig
> > You can't expect a machine with the computational capabilities of
> > less than an insect brain to the job most people do. It's actually
> > amazing that such machines can do quite a lot, but some tasks we
> > perform are the result of a significant part of our brain power.
> Craig, like xenophobes, do this repeatedly. To generalize invalidly
> from particular cases. That some x is stupid does not entail that all
> x have to be stupid.
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