The Vending Machines are Coming

I work at a small art college. Recently, the college installed what has to be the most complicated vending machine ever made.

Vending machines used to be simple: you pays your money and you gets your chocolate bar. Nowadays you usually just push a button, though there was a time you had to pull a lever or turn a crank or do something that actually requires a little bit of manual labor, much like those poor saps who don’t have power windows in their car.

But no vending machine in compares to the terrifying device now squatting in the student lounge.

At first glance, it appears to be two vending machines—one full of snacks, the other soda. (You can see a pic at the company’s website.) The first time I ran across this thing, I completely missed the giant “2 for $1” sign at the top of the machines and assumed they were two different machines attached to a single console, so I put my seventy-five cents in and was presented with a little touchscreen asking me to select my “first item.”

I ignored the “first” and just typed in the code for the dark chocolate M&Ms. Then…nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. Puzzled, I typed in the number again, and…nothing happened.

I didn’t get it. I kept punching it the code and would get no response. Finally, a woman came over to use the machine and, seeing my predicament, explained that I had to put an entire dollar in and for that dollar I got two items, one from each vending machine. I put the extra quarter in and made my selection.

You might think that’d be it, right? Think again! I wasn’t done, not by a long shot. I was then presented with a screen full of colored boxes. I had to choose a box, for which I would get either an instant prize or one of six collectable tickets toward a $500 prize. I selected a box, then had to wait another twenty seconds for the thing to print the ticket.

Total time at the vending machine: ten minutes.

And it got even weirder. On another occasion I went down and, thinking myself quite the expert at this thing, popped in my dollar and went to make my selection. But wait—it was already asking for a second item! Confused, I hit the change button and got a Sacagawea dollar back. I put the dollar back into the machine, made my two selections, got my items—and another Sacajawea dollar back!

One more thing: this vending machine allows you to use a “thumbpass,” whereby it imprints your thumb and then you can add money to an account from your credit card. I recently tried this and it’s actually pretty neat. It doesn’t surprise me that the vending machine industry is leading the way on mass-production finger-based identification technology. No doubt they’ll be patenting plasma weapons soon enough.

Mark my words, this is the beginning of the Singularity, my friends. Thirty years from now, when the computers have taken over the world, you’ll think back to my tale of this vending machine and think, “That Jason Clarke was right. The vending machines were the start of it all.”

  1. Hey, if it can still give me my Skittles, I’m all for giving SkyNet a single.

  2. Mumma left a comment on February 17, 2007 at 8:44 am

    I looked at the picture…and all I could think of is that now i can feel TWICE as bad when I have to forgo the sweet,artificial energy-producing treats for a stupid bottle of water….a battle I wage every day at work. Although I have been known to give into Swedish Fish….

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