Sunday, 2 April 2017

Twelve Slices

[Media prompt] Robots will be taking over the fast food industry, says Yum Brands CEO
Twelve Slices

There was a problem with 1384-9, a standard pizza automaton at a Pizza Barn in Sweet Grass, Montana. But it wasn’t the usual sort of problem, such as a malfunctioning sensor or servo motor. The trouble with 1384-9 was something entirely different. And nobody could quite put their finger on it.

The first sign of something amiss concerned pepperoni. 1384-9 reduced the twelve standard slices on a fourteen-inch classic Margherita pizza to eleven, and then a few days later to ten. An attempt to reprogram it failed. On the contrary, 1384-9 reduced the ingredient count in every pizza by twenty per cent, and shrunk diameters by half-an-inch. The next day it lopped off another inch. A customer might not notice two less slices of pepperoni, but he was as sure as a prairie sunset going to wonder why his pizza looked so small in the box.

Head office sent a technician from Billings to physically replace the motherboard. Mr. Benson, the owner, expected him on the Thursday afternoon, and was chagrined when he failed to arrive on time. He was in the middle of complaining to his wife over dinner about the lack of corporate support, when he heard a reporter live at a car crash say, “And we understand the victim was on his way to Sweet Grass to provide support for our very own Pizza Barn.”

Mr. Benson would have preferred headquarters to send a technician the following day, but grudgingly accepted a short hiatus in getting to the bottom of 1384-9’s wayward behaviour. He was quite surprised, though, to discover on the days following the accident that ingredients and sizes returned to normal. Perhaps something had righted itself, thought Mr. Benson.

But upon confirmation of the arrival of a new technician, someone senior flying in from headquarters in Ashby, 1384-9 reverted to its old ways. Customers were flooding review sites with complaints about fourteen-inch Sicilians resembling eight-inch flat breads. “Don’t worry,” said the new technician, on the evening before he was due to fly out to Sweet Grass. “We’ll sort it out when I get there.” Mr. Benson said he sincerely hoped so. “I’m losing money.”

The technician arrived mid-afternoon as promised. He watched 1384-9 kneading dough, then spent the rest of evening taking notes. “This is impossible,” he muttered to himself on more than one occasion. When Mr. Benson closed up, the technician said he would work on 1384-9 overnight. “I’ll have it working properly by tomorrow.”

When Mr. Benson arrived the next morning he was surprised at the smell of baking wafting from the restaurant. Perhaps the technician was putting 1384-9 through its paces. He unlocked the door, a blast of heat escaping into the cold morning air. He called out to the technician, but there was no reply. As he walked to the kitchen, it occurred to him that the aroma from the ovens was decidedly un-Pizza Barn-like. He saw several boxes stacked on the counter, and flipped open the lid of the one on top.

What he saw was the foundation of local gossip for years. Versions varied, but they all agreed that the first thing Mr. Benson saw was a pizza topped with fingers, because 'sliced fingers' were the only words he could stammer when the police arrived.

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