Tag Archives: artificial intelligence

Self-Checkout

It feels like forever while I wait for the guy buying three different kinds of organic peppers and one vine tomato to figure out how to punch in the produce code into the keypad and realize that he’s not supposed to weigh all four fucking fruits together at the same time and then I still have to watch him struggle with swiping his god damn credit card and screwing up the system that I start to consider running for office entirely on a political platform that pledges to require  all potential Self-Checkout users at the grocery store to be licensed before they can be let loose in the lines.

When he’s finally finished fucking up my evening, I step up to the machine and swipe my savings card on the score. “He-lloThome.Well-comeback.,” intones a clunky mechanical voice that vaguely resembles some concept of femininity. “How-was-the__Elli-osPiz-za__that.You.pur-chasedAt__two. Twenty-Seven. Aye-Em___To-Day?”

“Uh, fine. Thanks. Yeah.” I say. I glance around quickly to make sure no one in the line is listening to this dumb machine reminding me of last night’s regrettable drunken purchase. Although perhaps it’s not fair to say that it’s “regrettable” being that, well, I don’t actually have much recollection of it.

I scan my carton of coconut milk across the machine and wait while the dumb thing prompts me to, “Please.place-your__Coconut. Milk.___on-the-belt.” like it does every time, as if I hadn’t figured it out myself by now.

But this time, it keeps talking. “I-see.That.You.have-purchased__Coconut. Milk.__My_records.show.that-you-like.to-buy____Garelick-Farms_Whole.Milk.__Is-this.cor-rect? Please-press__*Yes*-or__*No*.” I press the little green button on the touchscreen and I can hear the people in line behind me shift their weight and sigh.

“Are-you.Di-e-ting_Thome?” the machine asks.

“No!” I say, perhaps a bit louder and more emphatic than I should have when speaking to a machine in public. I laugh nervously then turn to the little old woman behind me and say, “I’m actually just, I’m making sorbet at home tonight, for my girlfriend, so, ya know, the, um, the coconut milk is — ”

“¿Que?” she says, which is how I know she hates me.

The machine interrupts again. “Please-press__*Enter*__if.You-would.like-this.Ma-chine-to.keep-track-of-your.di-et-and-off-er-sug.Ges-tions. Press__*Exit*__if-this-is-a.one-time-pur.chase.” I poke my finger at the red button on the touch screen, then keep stabbing with my finger in angry little bursts like a drunken wasp.

“Thank-you.For.cancel-ing-your.Or-der.Please-have.A-good-day.Thome.” the machine says. I can feel the angry eyes behind me burning holes into my neck. I glance around to see if any of the staff is nearby. It turns out the coast is clear, and my coconut milk is already sitting at the other end of the conveyor belt. I smile at the little old Hispanic lady behind me, then dart down the aisle, grab my milk and make a run for it.

EndProgram.txt (excerpt)

“The cause of death was determined to be liquid damage. I am sorry for your dataloss,” says the brown-skinned man at the Customer Service desk.

“Yes. Thank you,” Walter responds, dragging his tongue along the bottom of his burly white mustache. He stands over the Bot, laid at rest in its original packaging, its freshly buffed shell surrounded by decorative bubble wrap. Its unlit LED eyes remain open, two black and empty vessels not-staring at the sky. “Although technically its not my data. I designed the model, but it’s an autonomous intelligence, so I never…” Walter hesitates. He drags his hand down his face, stretching out the skin and wiping spittle from his upper lip. “We never really had much of a relationship.”

The Customer Service representative grips Walter’s right hand with his own, then places his left hand atop their joined shake. He closes his eyes and nods solemnly and says, “We must all grieve in our own ways. No man should have to bury a son.” He looks at Walter but does not move his hands.

Walter swallows and tries to collect himself. “I…thank you. But again, I just designed the model. It’s not my son, it’s…” he says, slowly pulling his arm away. A look of disgust and confusion washes over his face. “Is the hard drive…where is whatever was inside of him?” He waves a hand over the Bot’s face, closing the thin metal lids that protect its optical receptors. The unliving alloy on its face is freezing to his touch.

“We replaced all the hardware after the autopsy, so everything that was there should still be inside of it. Sometimes we do reclaim or refurbish parts if it’s in the Bot’s contract, but even then we usually wait until after the funeral.” The brown-skinned man smiles sadly at Walter. He bobs their cluster of hands up-and-down like buoys on a calm sea before he finally lets go.

“Could you figure out why it did that? Why it would…I thought I programmed these machines to be smarter than that. If it’s something I did then I should know so I can fix it. If you recovered any data at all then maybe –”

The man behind the desk bows his head and slowly shakes it left to right. “The liquid damage to the hard drive is too great. The corrosion is irreversible. Now, if you don’t have any other questions, I can take the unit into the back so we can begin preparing it for tomorrow’s showing.”

Walter’s face remains neutral as he looks the Bot up and down once more. He reaches into the box and lifts its clunky, lifeless left arm. With his other hand he traces the scratches where its forearm extension meets the grabber and the end, then lets the ingot extremity thunk back into its crate.

“No,” Walter says as he looks back at the brown-skinned man. “That should be all. Thank you.” He watches the man roll the coffin away. He does not cry.

Automatic Teller

The entranceway was a net, designed to capture the sunlight before it contaminated the pub inside. Kevin had forgotten that it was still daytime. He stutter-stepped as he pushed past the door and a wave of light crashed over him, splashing across the walls and floor and burning his heavily dilated eyes.

He waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the sun, then scanned the small foyer, past the dilapidated racks of free periodicals, until he found the ATM sitting in the corner to the left of the door through which he had just exited the bar. It looked like a tired old man, leaning up against the wall with its knees up against its chest. There was ribbed plastic tubing resembling arms on either side, bent up into L-shapes at what appeared to be the elbow, and its body was more of a boxy metal trash can with worn, rounded edges that were clearly intended to make it look sleek. It had a pixelated monitor in place of a swinging lid, with a numeric keypad goatee and two scars across its chin — one for consuming the cards, the other for dispensing cash. Presently, the monitor displayed a digitized face with a sardonic, bitmapped smile.

Kevin inserted his card into the appropriate slot/scar and punched in his secret code. A voice spoke: “Ten twen-ty.three. Let.me.guess — hYour birth-Day? Ha. Ha. Ver-ee oar-idgenal,” it said, with a mechanical inflection. Kevin took a step back, being careful to keep one foot by the machine in case someone tried to rob him. He looked around the room frantically, but couldn’t see anyone. “Wuh-who said that? H-how did you know?” he said.

“Ha. Of.course. Fuh-king tip.ee.cull. Seer-heously, did.you.hwant.some-one.to.steal-hyour.i-den-ti-ty Be-cuz hyou are just.ask-ing? for.it mis-ter,” the voice responded. Kevin looked down at the ATM display in bewilderment and noticed that it was rolling its pixel-cluster eyes at him. Its bitmapped mouth was dropped open in disgust. Once it noticed him staring, it returned to its default expression of indifference. “Sorry,” it said. “hWould you like.to.make. A-deposit, or-A. hwith-drawal.”

“Uhh…withdrawl, please?” Kevin responded nervously.

“Let me-guess,” responded the machine. “hYou did-not re-uh-lies that.it-was.a cash. only-bar. Good-fuh.king-job.dumb-ass. En-ee way.how-much-would. hYou. like?”

“I’ll take eighty, please.”

“Ay-tee. Doll-ers? Gee-zus. Christ.man. How much.did-hyou drink?”

“I haven’t had anything yet. Just give me the cash!” At this point, Kevin was frustrated. Why couldn’t he just got his cash and be gone? He had always hated artificial intelligent, ever since the soda machine at work had started giving him Diet Coke “for his own good.”

The machine let out an exasperated digital sigh. “All. rite-man. Calm. down. Don’t have-a. cow. I’m-just. Try-ing.to.help. hOne-moment.please.” Kevin listened to the harddrive whirring inside and felt a sudden urge to rip it out and smash it on the street.

After about a minute, he heard gears begin to grind, and a taped-together five-dollar bill came out of the slot. Kevin waited for a few more seconds, but nothing followed, and soon the digitized emoticon face had disappeared. He smacked the machine on the side of its boxy head and yelled, “Hey! Where’s the rest of my money?”

The digital face returned with a blip wearing a straight expression. “Sar-ee, bud.ee. I’ve seen-hyour. Cred.it.Card-bill this month. I’m-just. Try.ing.to-help.Good!bye.”

Kevin stormed back into the bar, ordered a shot of whiskey, and left without giving the bartender a tip.