"The human supermarket checker is superior to the self-checkout machine in almost every way," writes Farhad Manjoo in The Wall Street Journal (10/7/13). "The human is faster," he continues. "The human has a more pleasing, less buggy face. 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 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."
The main problem, says Farhad, is that human cashiers "are in short supply," which means that the lines for human checkers are always longer than those for the machines. Some might take this to mean that the machines are more efficient, but Farhad says it’s because they "aren’t very good" for anything other than small orders, so most shoppers avoid them. The biggest issue, he believes, is the machine’s inability to identify fruits and vegetables, requiring the shopper to enter the appropriate codes. Machines "lack proper information to do the job a human would do."
"To put it another way," writes Farhad, "They can’t tell shitakes from Shinola." He adds: "If a human checker asked you to remind him what that bunch of oblong yellow fruit in your basket was, you’d ask to see his boss." This might be solved by tagging "every produce item with an electronic identification tag. But that would be an enormous infrastructural challenge for a dubious return." And there’s one more issue as Farhad sees it: "Unless the store gives me an explicit price break for scanning my stuff, why, exactly, should I be rejoicing about doing more work?"