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Forget Skynet, helpful AI robots taking tickets at 'contact-free' movie theaters in South Korea

By Josh Grossberg
CJ CGV Theater

With actual human interaction seemingly more a hindrance than a help when it comes to rebooting the global economy in the coronavirus era, South Korea's taking a page out of science fiction to get people going to the movies again.

According to Variety, the country's top theater chain, CJ CGV, implemented completely contact-free technology in April at its Yeouido branch to ensure moviegoers maintain proper social distancing and avoid spreading COVID-19. And plans are now underway to do the same at many of its multiplexes nationwide.

What does "contact-free," or "un-tact" in the local parlance, entail exactly?  How about replacing longtime human workers with actual AI robots, automated kiosks, and mobile apps to do the things your friendly neighborhood teenager used to do.

Such tasks include helping purchase and pick up tickets, reserve seats, and scanning tickets. While the ol' concession stand has been replaced by LED-controlled pick-up boxes that deliver snacks ordered through the company's app.

"It is predicted that moviegoers’ demand for un-tact [services in cinema] will also grow as a part of the new normal," Oh Dae-sik, head of CJ CGV’s smart innovation team, told Variety. "We will monitor feedback from visitors and operations, and consider expanding the un-tact cinema system, which is expected to enhance the level of convenience for our customers as well as the efficiency of cinema operation."

CJ CGV isn't the only one bringing on the bots to ensure a safe night out.

South Korea's Lotte Cinema has also turned to automation in some of its theaters, with more smart technology on the way, including voice recognition systems. And to keep kids from sneaking into a movie they shouldn't be due to age restrictions, audiences might soon need to scan their ID cards too.

No word on the chains' strategy to keep people social distancing in their seats, but maybe they can use Singapore's robot dog, Spot, for that.

As for whether our robot overlords will be tearing Americans' tickets anytime soon, U.S. exhibitors have yet to announce any similar initiatives, though it appears drive-ins are making a comeback. Hopefully, somewhere not too far down the road, movie theater jobs will be making a comeback too.