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Illustration by Chris De Santis

The Siren of Stop & Shop

Illustration by Chris de Santis.
Illustration by Chris de Santis.

Stop & Shop #2633 on Whalley Avenue is an equal-opportunity employer. Their top staff member is six feet tall, dark gray, clunky, and bilingual. Sporting a permanent smirk and oversized decorative eyes, an aura of mystery surrounds him. He’s a top-of-the-line piece of tech going by many names: Asshole, Thing, Idiot, Robot, Marty. One could also call him a waste of thirty-five thousand dollars.

Most assume that Marty is a janitor or security guard of some sort. Both of these descriptions are wrong. A square label glued to Marty’s oblong plastic body explains that he reports spills and debris to improve customer experience. Limited by his lack of appendages, Marty relies on just his voice. He confronts hazards by capturing floor-level images of safety threats and repeating a script in his computerized feminine voice: “Caution. Hazard detected. Precaución. Peligro detectado.” Another employee then attends to the danger. He is an alarm system reserved for loose onion skins and puddles with no ability to clean them. 

Over the phone, the manager was reluctant to discuss the Marty in the room and hung up on me three times. “The associates? They think he’s fine, yeah. He has his own responsibilities, takes care of himself,” he finally sputtered out. Stop & Shop’s discretion surrounding Marty and the nature of his absurd presence caused me to wonder if more lurks behind his jumbo-sized googly eyes. 

I followed Marty around the store to gather intel first-hand. For purposes of journalistic integrity, I donned a large coat and sunglasses. We ambled along at his cautious pace. His choppy gliding motion suggested Marty constantly calculated his next move. He beeped often and spun blindly in circles for no apparent reason. He did not notice any hazards worth reporting. No other customer found his sore thumb-shaped figure to be worth a glance despite the bright blue lights and whirring set of wheels. Perhaps we both wear our professions as disguises. 

Is he a humble guardian of retail, or a harbinger of artificial intelligence domination? Should Stop & Shop change their hiring policy to omit anthropomorphized machines? Marty remains a mystery and a diligent employee.

—Sophie Molden

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