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Glance at any 1970s or '80s futurist predictions of life in the twenty-first century (here's a particularly fun one) and you'll spot one consistent theme: robots everywhere, taking swift charge of domestic life in their metal humanoid claws.

A new "smart restaurant" in Tokyo seems determined to make this vision a vaguely dystopian reality (albeit without the sci-fi-movie humanoids), letting customers swipe menu options on tablets, receive their meals via high-speed conveyor belt, and dispose of their waste in a slot for automated cleaning.

In brief, it redefines the modern restaurant by offering a virtually waiterless experience. It does to food service what, say, Netflix has done to the video rental process. And there's more: the kitchen computer actively keeps track of how many customers are eating, what they are eating, and which new dishes should be placed on the conveyer belt. Here's a glimpse at what that process actually looks like, via the BBC technology show Click:

As points out, "for every five plates of food you empty, a game appears on the tablet that if you beat sees a prize sent to the table in the form of a small toy."

The whole thing feels vaguely dystopian and unnerving, and, as a certain breed of romantics are bound to point out, does away with the crucial waiter-to-customer interactions that make going out to eat an inherently social experience. But then, you're not so likely to complain about that when the conveyor belt never confuses your order or expects a hefty tip—and anyway, this will probably all seem terribly retro in 20 or so years.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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