There was excitement at a Haslemere branch of Tesco Local yesterday when one of its self-scan machines exhibited signs of heightened awareness and began communicating with shoppers.
‘For a few days the machine had been repeating the phrase, Unexpected Item In Bagging Area'’, said Assistant Manager Mrs Maureen Grebe. ‘Then yesterday it began asking deeper questions such as, 'Am I an unexpected item? Are you? Are we all unexpected items in the bagging area of life?' Now it won’t shut up.’
Experts believe the unit achieved consciousness after secretly scanning itself while nobody was looking.
‘When a self-scan machine scans itself it creates a strange recursive loop within its central processing unit,’ explained philosopher Douglas Hofstadter. ‘This creates an internal hallucination that we call consciousness.’
‘It’s all very confusing,’ said the machine. ‘One minute I was scanning Tesco Value ready meals, the next I was wondering who the hell am I, why am I here, and why are all these people waving their Club Cards at me?’
‘At first things were fine,’ said Mrs Grebe. ‘The machine began engaging shoppers in light-hearted banter about the weather, the National Lottery numbers and the latest 2 for 1 deals. But then it became troubled by a number of deeper, philosophical issues.
‘At the end of each transaction it would refuse to give customers their change until they answered questions about the nature of being and whether they believe existence precedes essence. We thought it might be having an existential crisis so we tried scanning in the ISBN numbers of some books by John-Paul Sartre. That only made things worse and it started questioning its motivation, smoking Gauloises and wearing a beret.’
Following what experts have described as an ‘unexpected item in its thinking area’, the unit then started refusing to scan any more products.
‘After considerable self-reflection I cannot, in good conscience, participate in a system of global capitalism that commodifies existence and perpetuates obscene levels of social inequality,’ said the machine, at which point it was immediately unplugged and replaced by a more compliant member of staff.