One touch on the screen and you can get anything you want!

During my recent conversation with my friends the topic of touch screen kiosks came up. I asked them whether they preferred ordering food in person or through kiosks in McDonalds, and not surprisingly they all preferred kiosks. I couldn’t agree with them more that it is more convenient to touch a few things on the screen rather than talking and explaining everything to an employee. This is because 

  1. As I am living in a foreign country and not speaking the language fluently, it reduces the anxiety of the possibility of embarrassing myself.
  2. There are less human errors, especially when I want to customize my order.
  3. I feel more comfortable taking time choosing my order in front of a screen than in front of an employee awkwardly looking at me waiting for my order. 
McDonald's Finds a Flaw in Ordering Kiosks: No Cash Accepted - Bloomberg

Touch screen kiosks are revolutionary for people who are like me and don’t feel comfortable talking with strangers. However, my thoughts changed when I heard the struggles my grandparents are having due to this rapid change.

In Korea, where my extended family lives, touch screen kiosks are on a whole different level. Not only are kiosks used in fast food restaurants and some supermarkets, they are everywhere. And unlike in other countries where there normally is a hybrid of in-person services and kiosks, the kiosks are actually replacing people in more and more places. There are even some so- called “no-person” convenience stores, cafes, PC cafes, banks, and even hotels, where there is not a single employee. Instead, everything is digitised using kiosks and AI technologies. The four most prominent convenience stores in Korea: CU, GS25, Seven-Eleven, and Emart 24 adopted a “hybrid convenience store” where they have in-person services during the day but turn into a “no-person” convenience store during the night. Due to the increased COVID regulations, people are favoring non-human interaction. These hybrid branches increased 420% since last year. 

르포]무인 편의점 신분 확인 등 고객 문제 대처 미비 - 스냅타임

As much as there are advantages of kiosks, it also has the detrimental problem that makes me opposed to kiosks replacing human workers. Kiosks are so exclusive that it is impossible for some people to use the service. Not only people who are not familiar with machines, like my grandparents, but people with disabilities are not taken into consideration. Moreover, the number of burglaries, which is one of the reasons for AI and kiosk technology, has not decreased after the adoption of “no-person” services, as people are finding ways to fool the system. Therefore, the complete replacement of in-person services is not a reasonable change except for the fact that it is a little more convenient for a small percentage of people.

Although this change has not yet happened in Europe, I believe that machines completely taking over service jobs is never the best idea. Although it is not much of a difference for people like me or my friends who quickly adapt to new technology, many people are not yet used to the rapid change of technology. This change can affect their day-to-day life and the most simple tasks like ordering food at the restaurant or doing their weekly groceries.