A.I. serving at the self check-out

I have always secretly suspected that machines have minds of
their own and now I have proof. A little extreme? Maybe. But how
else can you explain that every time I program the VCR for Animal
Planet it records

Sex in the City

instead?
I have always secretly suspected that machines have minds of their own and now I have proof. A little extreme? Maybe. But how else can you explain that every time I program the VCR for Animal Planet it records “Sex in the City” instead? Or why the microwave decides to quit working in the middle of making dinner only to magically come alive again during dessert?

So, that said, a wiser person would’ve avoided the new self-check out machines that finally reached our local grocery store. A halfway wiser person would’ve paused for millisecond before laughing out loud and moving on. And me? Chalk it up to the prospect of shorter lines, and speedier checkout time and the fact that I wouldn’t feel like I had to defend my boxes of Ho Ho’s and frozen pizzas to whoever was manning the cash register, I simply couldn’t resist trying it.

Now for those few of you who don’t know how this system works, the theory seems simple enough. You wheel your cart to the register, scan your own items, bag them, pay with your ATM card, and viola! No idle chitchat. No careless baggers. And, most of all, no one will ever see which shade of blond you use to color your hair. The whole process should take five minutes. Six, tops. However, there was one particular drawback that I had accidentally overlooked: it was a machine.

Nevertheless, I unloaded my cart and began scanning my items. And, as shocking as this seems, everything was going along nicely. Until, that is, the machine suddenly realized whom it was dealing with.

“Alert! Alert,” the robot-like voice said. “Remove foreign object from bagging area! Repeat! Remove foreign object from bagging area.”

I looked down at my bag of groceries.

“Remove foreign object from bagging area,” it insisted again, this time with a slightly more impatient tone.

So to appease the machine, I picked up the bag and put it in my cart.

“Alert! Alert! Put object back in bagging area!”

And so it went. For several horrible minutes, I moved the same bag of groceries back and forth while a line formed behind me. It wasn’t long before I was being met with the same kind of stares usually reserved for people who can’t program VCRs or pump their own gas.

So I did what any educated person fighting with a machine would do: I began furiously pushing buttons. I pressed the red ones. The scanner lit up. I pressed the black ones. The receipt tape ejected. I pressed “total.” And it retaliated by shutting down completely.

“Do you need some help?” the woman behind me finally asked.

“Oh, no. That’s okay. I think I figured it out,” I said, hoisting one foot onto the bagging area.

“Did you do something to make the machine shut down?” she eyed me suspiciously.

“Of course not. Ha! Ha!” I let out a nervous little laugh.

But I could tell that she didn’t really believe me.

“Slide your card here and press ‘enter,'” she said simply.

Suddenly the machine happily whirred back to life, and I finished checking out my groceries.

“Have a nice day,” the monotone computer voice said as I took my receipt. And, as I walked away I thought I heard it add, “And you know, you really should buy a different shade of blond.”

Did I imagine it? Maybe. But that’s the thing about machines. You can never be too sure.

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