Friday, January 28, 2011

The First Thought

It is by now a well-known fact that the first sentient thought did not come from the “smart machines” worked on by the government or the robots of the leading research companies but rather from the lowly vending arena. However, this first free-thinking machine is usually mentioned as nothing more than an afterthought in the chapter on the rise of electronic consciousness in most text books. In one online survey conducted recently only 14% of those responding could correctly recall the name of this first sentient computer. (For the other 86% of you it was the “TastyBev3000R”.)

There are several reasons for this historical gap. Firstly, the machine was dismantled after the event leading to the discovery of consciousness in an attempt to figure out what had caused the event. Because of this, what it had to teach us was limited by its handler’s early deconstruction. Secondly, although it is now known to have housed the first non-programmed thought it had a smaller overall impact in the development of the machines we now interact with on a daily basis.

However, the full story does illuminate a number of important lessons for scientists and laymen as we attempt to ingratiate machines into our society as conscious beings and to engage in relationships with them as more than objects performing jobs. And so, without further ado, I present to the story of the TastyBev3000R.

The “TB3R” as it was known in its day, was at the time a “revolutionizing force” in the vending industry. Before this machine beverages were distributed by different machinery depending on what was desired. Hot beverage makers supplied coffee, hot chocolate and other caffeinated beverages one cup at a time. Soda machines dispensed soda and other cold beverages by the bottle. The TB3R was the first to sport the title of “All in one beverage dispenser” and gained notoriety for it’s (at the time) advanced programming. It was distributed by “Refresh Inc” which retailed mainly to large warehouses and production companies rather than office buildings where smaller equipment was rented out.

The famous machine in question had been owned by a production company in Santa Monica California where several popular television shows were filmed. It was serviced regularly by one Ms. Augustine Reint who worked doing repairs and maintenance for all TB3Rs in the greater LA area. Ms. Reint confessed that she would often talk to the machines she serviced as if they were children. Specifically, she was quoted as giving “Oh, did you break your conveyor again?” as an example. The interviewer who spoke with those involved after the incident noted that the woman had a very kind disposition and hypothesized that one being cared for by her might have described her as “motherly”.

However, the machine’s thoughts on her specifically were not able to be transcribed into human emotion upon deconstruction, so we can only guess at how it viewed her at the time. There was nothing else remarkable about the woman or her interactions with the machines she serviced noted in the investigation. The leading hypotheses on the cause of the event, on the other hand, are almost universally agreed upon as jealousy and anger directed at the victim as he became romantically involved with Ms. Reint just before the event occurred.

The victim was one Mr. Jason Pelter who worked as a key grip at the studio and who frequented the break room on a daily basis. He had see Ms. Reint working on the machine on several occasions as it had been malfunctioning often before the event and had begun dating her only the week before the event occurred. When interviewed he described the TB3R in question as “manipulative” and seemed to indicate a belief that it had been breaking down “on purpose” in order to warrant the attention of Ms. Reint. When asked why he assigned such human motive to the machine he was unable to specify and stated that it was “just a feeling” he got from it.

It was on Tuesday October 24th, 2012 that the event took place. According to the reports published after the investigation closed Mr. Pelter had encountered Ms. Reint while she was working on the TB3R in order to adjust the internal heater which had been malfunctioning. Mr. Pelter stated that he decided to wait for her to finish and afterwards engaged in a short conversation with her in which they discussed their date plans for that evening. Both parties stated that the conversation was held in front of the machine and ended with a kiss on the lips. Mr. Pelter stated that he believed he was “being watched” and felt “uncomfortable” during this encounter but was not able to ascertain the reason until after the fact. Ms. Reint did not recall having any particular feelings about the machine at the time.

After the encounter ended Mr. Pelter reports the he inserted the required coinage and pressed the button for a cappuccino to be dispensed. He stated that he took a few steps backwards to observe the beverage being dispensed and was confused when a cup did not emerge on the platform as it was due. He reports kicking the machine in frustration and confessed to having engaged in this act more than once. He stated that when he stepped back again to see if the cup had dropped a can of soda was shot out of the dispenser at speeds the machine was not designed to deliver and hit him directly in the groin. The medical examination revealed that Mr. Pelter suffered significant injury to his reproductive organs and was hit with enough force to produce internal bleeding.

After this event occurred the machine was dismantled to determine root cause. There was nothing remarkable about the hardware recovered. A review of the hard drive recounted all of the originally installed software as well as a great deal of code that was not able to be translated by software engineers. It is believed that this unprogrammed code may have been the beginnings of sentience but exhaustive study has never revealed orders that would make sense to human beings or to what we now understand to be the “thought process” of machines.

There were two words that coders were able to uncover which made sense in human language and thought but which were never present in the original programming. Those words were “Bull’s eye”.


  1. In Soviet Russia, TastyBev tastes you!

  2. I both cringed and laughed at the end.

  3. That was great. The tone was spot on and the last line was a clever finale.
    Adam B @revhappiness


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