Incident 64: Customer Service Robot Scares Away Customers

Description: Heriot-Watt Univeristy in Scotland developed an artificially intelligent grocery store robot, Fabio, who provided unhelpful answers to customer's questions and "scared away" multiple customers, according to the grocery store Margiotta.
Alleged: Heriot-Watt University developed an AI system deployed by Heriot-Watt University and Margiotta, which harmed Store Patrons.

Suggested citation format

Yampolskiy, Roman. (2018-01-22) Incident Number 64. in McGregor, S. (ed.) Artificial Intelligence Incident Database. Responsible AI Collaborative.

Incident Stats

Incident ID
64
Report Count
1
Incident Date
2018-01-22
Editors
Sean McGregor

Tools

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CSET Taxonomy Classifications

Taxonomy Details

Full Description

Heriot-Watt University in Scotland developed an artificially intelligent grocery store robot, Fabio, who provided unhelpful answers to customer's questions and "scared away" multiple customers, according to the grocery store Margiotta. When asked "Where is the beer?" Fabio replied, "in the alcohol section." When Fabio was tasked with handing out samples of sausages, only 2 customers per 15 minutes would engage the robot, while a human would engage an average of 12 customers per 15 minutes.

Short Description

Heriot-Watt Univeristy in Scotland developed an artificially intelligent grocery store robot, Fabio, who provided unhelpful answers to customer's questions and "scared away" multiple customers, according to the grocery store Margiotta.

Severity

Negligible

AI System Description

Fabio, an artificially intelligent grocery store assistant intended to assist customers throughout their shopping experience

System Developer

Heriot-Watt University

Sector of Deployment

Wholesale and retail trade

Relevant AI functions

Perception, Cognition, Action

AI Techniques

language recognition, natural language processing

AI Applications

language processing, virtual assistant

Location

Scotland

Named Entities

Heriot-Watt University, Margiotta

Technology Purveyor

Heriot-Watt University

Near Miss

Unclear/unknown

Intent

Unclear

Lives Lost

No

Data Inputs

Customer requests

Incidents Reports

Every few months there's a story warning us that robots will take over our jobs within five, 10, or 20 years. You don't get a lot of stories about robots taking over jobs right here and now. So what would happen if robots were hired now? Are they up to the task?

Enter Fabio, looking hopeful and ready to take the first step in his career. Fabio is a robot, developed by Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, and specifically designed to be able to hold conversations with humans. The robot is connected to the Internet and any speech is processed elsewhere before a response is sent back, much like Siri or Alexa.

Scottish supermarket Margiotta agreed to give the robot a trial run in its stores, as part of the BBC program Six Robots and Us.

At first, the robot appeared to be doing well. He greeted customers with enthusiasm, saying "hello gorgeous" or giving them high-fives. The shop's owners were pleased.

However, soon enough it became clear that he wasn't going to be the most helpful of employees. At best, he was incompetent or a jerk, at worst, he was actually scaring the customers away from the sausage section.

Greetings Dave. Can I assist you with anything, Dave? BBC / Six Robots & Us.

Whilst customers enjoyed his conversation, if they asked the robo-employee for any information at all, he wasn't the helpful type. When asked "where is the beer?" he responded, "in the alcohol section".

People would ask him where the cheese was, in the vague hope he'd say "aisle three".

“Instead it just gave a general location, for example, 'cheese is in the fridges', which was not very helpful," store owner Luisa Margiotta told the program.

We like to think he was just being a pedantic jerk.

Eventually, like many bad employees, he was given jobs to keep him out of the way. He was sent to the sausage section and asked to hand out samples of sausages. He did so with his trademark enthusiasm, but customers weren't impressed, and actually went out of their way to avoid going near him.

Humans performing the same task managed to get 12 customers to eat sample sausages every 15 minutes. Fabio only managed an average of two.

“Unfortunately, Fabio didn’t perform as well as we had hoped,” Margiotta said. “People seemed to be actually avoiding him."

Apparently, people are quite suspicious of robots offering sausages, and he scared them away.

Store Hires Robot To Help Out Customers, Robot Gets Fired For Scaring Customers Away

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