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I guess it started with the robot talking to me at the front of Perfect Pizza. It was the check-out clerk, one of the humanoid ones, vaguely male with his square features, bald head and glass eyes. His pupils dilated when the clouds covered the sun, and he had specks of color in each iris: blue and grey, occasionally red. The ‘bot was just human enough to feel comfortable ordering a personal pizza from, yet small and deformed enough to remind us humans that we still dominated the earth. This one was permanently stuck to the counter, with a human-shaped torso, head and arms bursting from the white plastic like an eerie modern centaur.
All the check-out robots were programmed to say specific phrases in response to human interaction, with little variance. “And what kind of toppings would you like?” they would ask after you ordered your pizza. Some days, the only words ever spoken to me were those of the fast-food check-out ‘bot.
Next, the inevitable payment question: “How would you like to pay, ma’am, credit card or G.S.?” Even the robots used the initials G.S. instead of “general stipend,” and pretended that paying with a credit card was still an option. As if anyone who could use a credit card, and not the stipend, would be in a pizza joint.
And at the very end of the transaction, in most of these fast food restaurants, the robot would offer some last line to make you walk away feeling inspired. If you were eating at Happy Burger they’d say, “Have a happy-dappy day!” At Soyfarm Panda, the robot would say, “May your stomach be full and your mind at peace.” At Perfect Pizza, the robots would usually finish with the line, “We hope this pizza helps you to be happy today!”
But that wasn’t what the robot said to me on that day.