Every three months or so the supermarket chain, Tesco, sends me tokens through the post. They are actually quite useful as they are always for products we buy rather than for products they want us to buy (loyalty cards can be useful for both shopper and shopkeeper). This week one of the tokens I received was for 35 pence off a litre of this coconut milk my wife drinks as she likes to keep her dairy consumption to a minimum (although it would appear that when you are on holiday, artisan ice cream does not count as dairy). Even better, the token could be used twice.
So, when I was in the supermarket this evening I bought two cartons of coconut milk. I took them, with the rest of my shopping, to a till, and a nice lady scanned the lot and told me how much it all cost. I gave her the token and asked her to use it twice as I had bought the item twice. She said that, although I could use the token twice, I could only use it once per transaction. Okay I said then I'll just have the one carton. So she took one of the cartons and put it next to the till and went through all the palaver of reducing the amount due by the cost of one carton. Then she took my token and scribbled out the two and wrote one on it and handed it back to me. I then paid her and she said thank you and turned to the next customer.
"I'm not finished," I said.
I reached over and picked up the carton of coconut milk that she had taken out of my shopping bag.
"I now want to buy this," I told her.
She scanned the carton and told me how much it would cost. I handed her the token and she scanned that. The computer deducted the discount.
Stephen Hawking announced this week that we should be very scared of machines becoming self aware and taking over the world.
I'm afraid he is far too late with his warning. We are already slaves to the machines even though they are not yet self aware. When I was a kid and everything was done in the head of shop assistants the two discounts would have been deducted from my bill straight away in one go. Now, shop assistants are not allowed to think for themselves even when faced with obvious silliness. They cannot override the machines. If the machines break down they have to close the shop because there is not a manual option. Being a shop assistant used to require quite a high level of mathematical acumen. Nowadays, the person on the till is nothing more than a fleshly version of the self service tills.
God help us.