Join 3,497 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"A large pizza, please."
January 25, 2013 12:49 PM   Subscribe

In 1974, artificial intelligence researchers at Michigan State University made a giant leap forward in computer-aided communication for the handicapped: they used an early text-to-speech system to order a pizza. Spoiler: Domino's hung up on them.

The Nova presenter wisely predicts:
"It may not be very long before we can all use computers to communicate."
(Or to make Apple's MacInTalk say naughty things ten years later.)
posted by supercres (34 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Spoiler: Domino's hung up on them.

So they had the best possible outcome?
posted by benito.strauss at 12:57 PM on January 25, 2013 [13 favorites]


"It may not be very long before we can all use computers to communicate."

We're getting closer every day!
posted by perhapses at 1:00 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


That reminds me of the pizza party command line script.
posted by pravit at 1:02 PM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I used to work for an internet retailer and we'd get calls from these text-to-speech relay services, where an operator was reading off whatever the other person typed and typing replies in turn. Besides the fact that they were the most excruciating parody of human communication imaginable, it shortly became apparent that they were being used almost entirely by eastern European credit card fraudsters to try and get around our online safeguards.
posted by anazgnos at 1:03 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


burrito [-n "name"] [-t ] [-p phone#] [-9] [-d] [-x] [FoodSpec [...]]
posted by zamboni at 1:06 PM on January 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Domino's obviously thought it was the Noid trying to trick them into making the pizza get cold, and that it was in their best interest to avoid him by hanging up. It's really clear when you think about it.
posted by item at 1:07 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


A large 4-topping pizza, delivered, for $6.25?!
posted by vsync at 1:10 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


item: A sound theory, but Noid was a later invention.
posted by el io at 1:11 PM on January 25, 2013


Besides the fact that they were the most excruciating parody of human communication imaginable, it shortly became apparent that they were being used almost entirely by eastern European credit card fraudsters to try and get around our online safeguards.

Really? Interesting, because that's exactly what TTY is. I've used them and it's a little slow, but no worse than any other phone translator, I don't think. TTY is going out of fashion now that most people can text, too.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:11 PM on January 25, 2013


Ironic, though, that Dominos was one of the first to totally nail online pizza ordering (my favorite theme is Heavy Metal).
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:12 PM on January 25, 2013


hello domino's please make me a large pepperoni pizza and then throw it in the trash. Ha Ha Ha.
posted by boo_radley at 1:13 PM on January 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


vsync: "A large 4-topping pizza, delivered, for $6.25?!"

yeah, it's like how people freak out about gas prices in Die Hard.
posted by boo_radley at 1:13 PM on January 25, 2013


It means I'm a giant nerd that this made me a little misty, right? Especially the applause at the end.

Also, how awesome is the guy who eventually answered and got the pizza to them?
posted by supercres at 1:16 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Spoiler: Domino's hung up on them.

Your spoiler is incredibly misleading.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:19 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Handicapped is a weird, kind of offensive word to use here. Deaf or hard of hearing would be most appropriate.

IP Relay is the latest version of this type of service.
posted by desjardins at 1:19 PM on January 25, 2013


Imagine that poor guy answering the phone at Dominos in 1974 -- before Siri, before Macintalk, only 6 years after HAL. You're working your shift, listening to the usual large pies, sausages, mushrooms...when the phone rings, you pick it up, you hear a long silence then...THE FIRST MECHANICAL VOICE YOU'VE EVER HEARD.

One minute you're dealing with the dinner rush. The next minute you're taking one of the first trips deep into the heart of the uncanny valley.

Robot? Computer? Synthesizer? I can't believe any of those things would jump to mind. I would simply be creeped the hell out. No wonder the guy hung up on him. He probably walked out and started drinking, too.
posted by PlusDistance at 1:24 PM on January 25, 2013 [14 favorites]


Yum Pizza
posted by growabrain at 1:31 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Back then the correct reply was always: "You've got the wrong man, I spell my name Danger"
posted by hal9k at 1:32 PM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I used to take phone orders at Pizza Pizza (mid-80s, not 1974), and the coolest part of the shift was working the station with the TTY. Learning the abbreviations, training yourself to take turns, and working purely in text was a great change of pace from the usual. It was like Jenny Holzer getting the munchies and calling you direct.
posted by maudlin at 1:44 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was actually surprised that there was a Domino's in East Lansing in 1974. The first store was only opened in 1967 in Ypsilanti, it was while before they had even moved as far as Ann Arbor.....
posted by HuronBob at 1:47 PM on January 25, 2013


When I was doing phone tech support, I had some of the relay calls, and we hated them, because of having to deal with the time lag. I once had a call that under normal conditions would have taken two minutes take twenty. And not due to the caller, but due to the relay person, who needed me to spell almost everything I said.

Sometimes the delay is the thing that drives you mad, and sometimes the translation.

(having to give a call to one of my co-workers when the only thing the guy that called in could say in English was "no speak english, hebrew needed" was a special kind of surreal, though.)
posted by mephron at 1:56 PM on January 25, 2013


This is the coolest thing.

My lab mates are trying to convince me to call the number in the video.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 2:02 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


do it. And regardless of what answers, order a pizza.
posted by boo_radley at 2:05 PM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Handicapped is a weird, kind of offensive word to use here. Deaf or hard of hearing would be most appropriate.

Genuinely sorry about that. Debated between that and "mute" (he's not deaf; he just can't speak). Settled on this because I wanted something more general, since it really is a cool proof-of-concept for aiding individuals with all sorts of disabilities (which is probably what I should have said).

posted by supercres at 2:37 PM on January 25, 2013


I hear "non-verbal" as the descriptor in that case quite often! There may very well be others.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:42 PM on January 25, 2013


I called, but the number's been disconnected. *sad beep*
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 2:44 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I ordered a pizza from pizza pizza using there own system and a really slow modem back in the eighties in Brampton Ontario. We were all so excited and freaked out that it worked. The story around school evolved to us ordering ten pizzas and not paying for a single one but in truth we ordered one pizza and did have to pay for it but the three of us friends were the real deal as far as "hackers" went back then... The number was 967-11-13 for any Torontonians that remember the real number... Sadly the last time I was there the number no longer connected to a computer.
posted by mrgroweler at 6:54 PM on January 25, 2013


All I can say is,

GO GREEN!

(But seriously, there wasn't a pizza place better than Domino's?)
posted by Melee Loaf at 8:01 PM on January 25, 2013


This is seriously the coolest thing ever.

My dad was one of those bearded longhaired scientists back then too, so I sorta get it. My dad stil has the beard, though it's kinda snowy now. I wish I was half as geeky as him.
posted by starscream at 8:07 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Scientists who look like that during grad school rarely alter their style. Maybe half of them eventually cut their hair, but beards are durable.
posted by silby at 9:50 PM on January 25, 2013


Note that this isn't AI. It's humans typing words into a computer and then a voice synthesizer output whatever it was commanded. This is not really that groundbreaking, assistive communication experiments were fairly common even back even in the late 1960s on machines like the IBM 1500 which had pretty amazing audio capabilities. I mean, this could not have been that rare a technology if even a 16 year old hacker kiddie like me had access to it. From my personal collection, here's a faceplate from an IBM 1506 Audio Unit that I peeled off a 1500 system when it was decommissioned. It's quite yellowed because it's about 45 years old.

This technology was easily available as a consumer product called the Votrax which was available as early as 1972. After our university dumped the IBM 1500, they had a Votrax in the computer lab, maybe around 1976, and I sold them in the computer store where I worked around 1979. It is almost certain that the guys in this film are using a Votrax. It is fairly obvious that they aren't very good at operating it. They don't seem to understand you had to feed it English words with phonetic enhancements, like if you wrote "computer" it would say com-putter (like a golf putter) and you had to say compyuuter. It took some time to understand the idiosyncrasies of the Votrax, and which words were too complex for its tiny database of real words, and which ones had to be spelled out phonetically.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:11 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


They were in East Lansing, the pizza shangri-la of Michigan, and they ordered from fucking DOMINOES?
posted by LiteOpera at 4:59 AM on January 26, 2013


I work at a dessert shop, and every 6 months or so we have scammers who call in using the text to voice relay call. They ask to place a delivery order, then ask to use their courier, over pay us, and we pay their courier cash. I hate that it makes me so suspicious of those calls now.
posted by Night_owl at 10:04 AM on January 26, 2013


THE FIRST MECHANICAL VOICE YOU'VE EVER HEARD.

This hypothetical pizza order taking person must not have watched TV or gone to movies much.
posted by DU at 8:41 AM on January 28, 2013


« Older Lack of resources, benign discouragement from well...  |  Inspired by 88 lines about 44 ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments