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The other day Rosemary and I went grocery shopping at Shop and Stop. We only had a few items to purchase so we use one of those “Do it Yourself” checkout machines. You run the bar code of each item over the scanner and it totals the items. When you are done you put your money in one of those automatic change machines. And then you leave. No long lines, no person at the register to deal with, pretty cool actually.


But on this trip we had a few items without bar codes,so the TV screen instructed us to place them one at a time on the scale and then to push the “no code” button. The first item was a tomato, we put it on the scale and pushed the button. As I did this I couldn’t help but ask, “Now how is this machine going to know what I just asked it to total?” But then, there it was, “Tomato” and the price. Wow, cool. Let’s try that again. This time a single lemon. And again the machine got it right, “lemon” and the price. And the third time, green pepper, it got it right. By this time I’m checking out the machine, looking for some form of method by which it can determine the difference between a lemon and a green pepper. And now our fourth and final item, ground coffee in a brown paper bag. The store had run out of the regular coffee bags and in their place had left unmarked brown paper bags.

Now here was a challenge, let’s see how the machine does this time. We placed the bag on the scale and hit the button.... and .. “ground coffee” it read and the price. Now wait a minute, how could this machine possible know what was in that bag. X-rays, lasers, artificial intelligence?


Finally out of my need to know how this worked I turned to a bored teenager overseeing the automatic registers and asked, “How does this machine know what we put on the scale?” The young man turned to me and with a grin revealed the great mystery, he said, “I tell it.”

Rev. Dr. Greg Dawson of North Congregational Church of New Hartford, CT.

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