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    Self-Checkout Systems on the Rise

    Roboticization of the service sector eliminates jobs, boosts productivity.

    NEW YORK -- A report in the New York Times estimates that nearly 13,000 self-checkout systems will have been installed in American retail stores like Kroger and Home Depot by the end of this year, more than double the number in 2001, according to the market research firm IDC. Eager to save money on labor costs, businesses are stepping up the pace of automation.

    Fast-food restaurants like Jack in the Box and McDonald's are experimenting with kiosk menus in several locations that executives say have reduced lines and the need to order from a human being. The influx of the machines heralds what economists see as the eventual roboticization of large chunks of the service sector, the Times reported. In the standard economic paradox, they are already beginning to both eliminate jobs and boost productivity.

    The ascendance of self-service machines, experts and users say, is partly due to improvements in the technology since the early days of ATMs, which were much slower to catch on. Today, most kiosks have shed their hulking shells. Number pads and monochrome displays have been replaced with bright-colored touchscreens that respond instantly -- and help foster a trust in the technology that mere mortals may never again command, according to the Times.

    "If we asked people even a few years ago which would be more likely to make a mistake, an ATM or a cashier, they would say the ATM," the Times quoted Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University who studies human-computer interactions. "Now people would say the cashier. That's an amazing change."

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