Robots ate my road trip, day two


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    Remind me not to try to scan items without bar codes. I called attention to myself when trying to scan a single ear of corn

    - Photo: David Brancaccio

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    It’s full of trains. And I couldn’t go in because humans were involved.

    - Photo: David Brancaccio

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    In lieu of the transportation museum in Roanoke, I find a perfect facsimile of a modern day New Jersey Transit train...

    - Photo: David Brancaccio

Here’s the question: Is technology now so pervasive that a person can drive coast-to-coast without ever dealing with a human being? My quest was almost undone today by a wonderful woman, Pat, judging from the name tag. She works at a supermarket in Roanoke, Virginia.  Even as she lords over the set of four self-checkout lanes, Pat knows customers by name and the children of some customers give her hugs. I heard her referring to the checkout robots as “Pieces of doo doo.” She didn’t say doo doo, exactly. Pat came running over to help me as I tried to figure out how to scan a single ear of corn I was trying get at the self-checkout. I didn’t stay for extended conversation and hope I didn’t come off as rude. The lesson:  never try to scan something without a barcode.

I must have come off as a vile human being in the hotel, however. The cleaning crew was stopped by the elevator and offered a hello on my way out. I kept my eyes down and my earbuds in. I have a horrendous suspicion I came off as  some kind of evil, self-absorbed snob.   I guess I can’t try to cross the country not dealing with people and expect to be adored.

Driving over the Blue Ridge mountains, I had a robot on the radio. The music service Pandora is an algorithm, which is a kind of bot. You put in, say, Radiohead, and the machine picks songs it thinks you will like based on the initial input. I did this before I set out and put the results into the iPod, which is wired into the car. The best set by far: I put in Beck and it started with Odelay (“Two Turntables and a Microphone.”)  The robot then picked a dozen more songs in a row that I liked.So I turned it up and drove.

I’m at mile 902 now, Nashville.   I could have sworn I’d done over a thousand, but not yet.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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