• Chiba


9:45 a.m. While I sit by the department store entrance, the automatic doors have begun talking. If you’re in Japan long enough — about 30 minutes — you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Automated devices talk. That includes ATMs, drink and train-ticket machines, elevators, escalators and even toilets. They greet, instruct and thank users. I still can’t get over being instructed by toilets, but at least they don’t thank users.

Since a tobacco control law took effect last July requiring a proof-of-age card to make a purchase, cigarette machines are speaking up. They instruct how to swipe the card, without which one will have to buy from a smiling lady at a kiosk.

As I sit here, I suspect the tobacco machine has a problem: It’s dispensing instructions to all passersby. Either its infrared sensor trigger is too sensitive, or it took it upon itself to push flagging sales. Given artificial intelligence, who knows? It may sense that it can be replaced — by the smiling kiosk lady.

The store doors announce opening time, again. There goes the tobacco machine, again. It just called out to a primary school boy. Now the ATM chatter is mixing with cacophony. I’m in an acoustic vortex. I’d better sit elsewhere before I lose my mind all together and STOP hearing voices!

robert lezzi

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