Vaak, a Japanese startup, has developed artificial intelligence software that hunts for potential shoplifters. Algorithms analyze footage from security cameras and alert staff about potential thieves. They look for fidgeting, restlessness and other potentially suspicious body language.
Shoplifting cost the global retail industry billions of dollars in lost sales in 2017. Today, retailers are beginning to invest heavily in this new technology.
Los Angeles Times – March 6, 2019
WE’RE IN A DEPARTMENT STORE. A MAN (LARRY) IS IN THE MEN’S FASHION SECTION. HE IS RIFLING THROUGH A LARGE SELECTION OF SOCKS. A STOCKY LITTLE ROBOT WADDLES UP TO HIM. HIS NAME IS INSPECTOR 77. TINY FLASHING LIGHTS ADORN HIS SILVERY BODY. RIGHT BEHIND HIM ARE TWO UNIFORMED STANDARD-SIZED THUGS.
INSPECTOR 77 – Can I help you, sir?
LARRY – I don’t see how. Ever since I’ve been an adult, I’ve been able to choose what socks to wear all by myself.
INSPECTOR 77 – Really? Is that why you’ve picked up and thrown down 29 different pairs of socks over the last ten minutes?
LARRY – What are you? A super-advanced breed of snoop? How did you know that?
INSPECTOR 77 – My algorithms told me.
LARRY – Your algorithms? I don’t know what algorithms are but your algorithms are liars. I only picked up 26 pairs of socks.
INSPECTOR 77 – My algorithms always tell the unvarnished truth. You must have picked up the same socks multiple times.
LARRY – This is ridiculous. Why are my shopping habits any of your business?
INSPECTOR 77 – Permit me to introduce myself. I am Inspector 77. My job is to identify possible shoplifters.
LARRY – You’re kidding! You mean you seriously suspected me of plotting to swipe your precious socks? (mockingly) Oh no! My evil plans have been foiled. Curses! I’ve been ambushed by a mind-reader from the future!
INSPECTOR 77 – It so happens I’m imbued with A. I. – Artificial Intelligence.
LARRY – It so happens you’re imbued with C. S. – Congenital Stupidity.
INSPECTOR 77 – Did you know that shop-lifting costs retailers billions of dollars every year? Well, I’m the new weapon against it. My artificial intelligence software works with our security cameras and we scan footage of every person in the store.
LARRY – What put me into your cross-hairs?
INSPECTOR 77 – My suspicions were aroused when you picked up and kept stretching every single pair of socks on the display table.
LARRY – It’s called testing the merchandise.
INSPECTOR 77 – It’s more like committing assault and battery on the merchandise.
LARRY – What are you going to do with me now?
INSPECTOR 77 – Well, you didn’t steal anything. But by my calculations you could have been moments away from doing just that. So you’ll have to join that line.
(Inspector 77 points to his right. Standing a short distance away is a long line of outraged shoppers. Each is handcuffed and shackled. The two thugs start to similarly handcuff and shackle Larry.)
LARRY – (Shouting) You deranged piece of scrap metal! You’re arresting me?
INSPECTOR 77 – I’m not arresting you. I’m detaining you. Along with all those others. As soon as the police come, they’ll haul the bunch of you to the station. There they’ll question you. If your answers are satisfactory, they’ll release you. And hand you a brochure on how to behave and not behave when you’re shopping.
(Suddenly a man — obviously in a towering rage — walks up to Inspector 77. This is Mr. Farnsworth, the president of the department store.)
FARNSWORTH – Inspector 77! (Pointing to the long line of handcuffed and shackled shoppers.) Have you taken leave of your senses? (Going nose to nose with him) Of course I’m assuming you even possess any senses that you can take your leave from!
INSPECTOR 77 – I’m only doing my job, Mr. Farnsworth. Each shopper there has behaved in a manner I am programmed to recognize as suspicious. I am only detaining them until the police arrive.
FARNSWORTH – You digital asshole! Look in front of you! You’ve arrested almost half the customers in this department store!
INSPECTOR 77 – Why does everyone use the word “arrest?” I’m only holding them for questioning.
FARNSWORTH – (Grabbing Inspector 77 and shaking him) Moron! You’ve deprived all these people of their freedom. Particularly their freedom to wander up and down the aisles and purchase my merchandise. Do you know what they’ll do when they’re released? (Almost apoplectic) They’ll sue me! They’ll sue the store! The media will crucify us 24 hours a day! Lawsuits will fly from coast to coast like there’s no tomorrow. (Shaking Inspector 77’s body again) Nobody will rest until we’re completely out of business.
INSPECTOR 77 (to the two uniformed thugs) – Take him away!
FARNSWORTH – WHAT? You’re taking me — your employer — into custody?
INSPECTOR 77 – Sorry, Mr. Farnsworth. But my algorithms tell me that your physical behavior exhibits all the signs that require me to forcibly apprehend you.
(Suddenly another robot — twice as tall as Inspector 77 — appears. He too has a sleek, silvery body with tiny flashing lights all over his body. This is Inspector 78. He moves directly in front of Inspector 77.)
INSPECTOR 77 – (astonished) Who are you?
INSPECTOR 78 – I am Inspector 78. I have bad news for you. Headquarters has taken note of your deficiencies and developed a better, more advanced model of you. I am that model.
Inspector 77 – You mean —-
Inspector 78 – That’s right. You’re now defunct. Headquarters wants you to report back immediately. (To the two thugs) Go and remove everyone’s handcuffs and shackles. (the two thugs start doing that.)
INSPECTOR 77 – Then I guess —
INSPECTOR 78 – Correct. You can’t stop the relentless forward thrust of progress. Be it a newer version of a car, a computer or a robot. (addressing the entire assemblage) My company’s apologies to all of you. If you wish to file a lawsuit … our lawyers will be happy to meet with your lawyers and reach a just compensation.
INSPECTOR 77 (He moves off slightly and starts singing. The song is from “The Sound Of Music”. Its title? “ So Long, Farewell”. He accompanies himself by dancing the same steps as the Von Trapp children in the movie.)
So long, Farewell, Aufwiedersehn, Goodbye
(As he dances, he sings the entire song before he turns and disappears.)
Hans Kracauer – 5.13.2019
Hans is a WGA writer living in Los Angeles. His screenplay and television web site is: WWW.MANICMOONBEAMS.COM.